'Perfect Sense' Presents Global Disaster and Intimate Loss

Perfect Sense presents the end of the world using an irresistible sci-fi/allegorical hook: humanity is literally losing its senses.

Perfect Sense

Director: David Mackenzie
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Eva Green, Connie Nielsen, Ewen Bremner, Denis Lawson
Rated: NR
Studio: IFC Films
Year: 2011
US date: 2012-02-03 (Limited release)
UK date: 2011-10-07 (General release)

Perfect Sense is a romance, of sorts, set during a global plague. This context might recall Steven Soderbergh's chillier Contagion, which framed its medical investigation with a disaster-movie's emotional pull. Perfect Sense goes at the problem differently, with an irresistible sci-fi/allegorical hook: humanity is literally losing its senses. First, large swaths of the population lose their sense of smell. Weeks later, taste follows. It only gets worse from there, with collective and individual adjustments staggered anew when each step in the disease manifests, producing understandably increasing panic.

Each of these sensory losses is preceded by various emotional spells, as if bodies are crying out with instinctive dread. Before the initial loss of smell, victims are overtaken with a sense of grief. Before they can't taste anymore, people go mad with hunger, devouring anything in front of them. Michael (Ewan McGregor) is lucky enough to work as a chef in a gourmet kitchen, where he merely has to contend with eating the various ingredients all around him. Susan (Eva Green) faces a slightly more exotic change. A doctor not having any luck figuring out the disease's causes, she munches ravenously on flowers. Other people with different substances in their paths are less fortunate, but they are only glimpsed in brief worldwide montage, to give our focus on Michael and Susan some dreadful context.

Michael's restaurant is located near Susan's apartment, in Glasgow. Before the worst stages of the epidemic, Michael sees her through a window, bums a cigarette, and tries to flirt, although Susan doesn't respond right away. Michael and Susan soon bond over food, and take solace in each other as the world falls apart. Their relationship begins early enough that the movie can remain ambiguous about whether their connection is premised on true love, unspoken desperation or a mixture of the two that's as strange as their simultaneously fortuitous and terrible timing.

However we might parse it, the images of the romance focus on its physical dimensions but without linger on them. McGregor and Green are among mainstream cinema's most oft-naked stars (and director David Mackenzie last worked with McGregor on the explicit Young Adam), which doesn't precisely set up Perfect Sense's approach to sex. It's the rare movie romance that treats sex casually, with neither caginess nor heaviness (Young Adam was guilty of the latter). Though McGregor and Green are gorgeous, their lovemaking doesn't so much titillate as it indicates that this is a piece of doomy speculation for adults.

The movie's thoughtful sensibility prompts our forgiveness when it turns maudlin and faux-lyrical, inviting us a little too obviously to weep over this imaginary disaster. Though the ramifications of worldwide sensory deprivation are fascinating, perhaps especially from the vantage point of restaurant workers figuring out whether they can stay in business, those montages filling us in on the world beyond the protagonists become somewhat cursory.

Equally obligatory is the rudimentary way Perfect Sense goes about setting obstacles before Michael and Susan. Even with all of their big-canvas problems, the movie insists on a rift between them that is almost insultingly arbitrary, a supposed offense taken by Michael that no thinking person in a similar situation would imagine. It's disappointing to learn that such romantic contrivance still has a place at the end of the world.

But before this plot turn, as well as the movie's touching final minutes, Perfect Sense succeeds -- as Contagion did -- in finding an unusually specific way of presenting a global disaster. Its horrors don't include the typical piles of dead bodies and mass destruction (though both are implied), but they're still affecting, focused through what so many of us take for granted, that we experience the world firsthand. As senses fall away, people endure simple yet substantial losses on a massive scale, and the movie becomes both intimate and universal.






Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Mobley Laments the Evil of "James Crow" in the US

Austin's Mobley makes upbeat-sounding, soulful pop-rock songs with a political conscience, as on his latest single, "James Crow".


Jordan Tice's "Bad Little Idea" Is a Satirical Spin on Dire Romance (premiere)

Hawktail's Jordan Tice impresses with his solo work on "Bad Little Idea", a folk rambler that blends bluesy undertones with satiric wit.


Composer Ilan Eshkeri Discusses His Soundtrack for the 'Ghost of Tsushima' Game

Having composed for blockbuster films and ballet, Ilan Eshkeri discusses how powerful emotional narratives and the opportunity for creative freedom drew him to triple-A video game Ghost of Tsushima.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Love and Cinema: The Ruinous Lives in Żuławski's L'important c'est d'aimer

Żuławski's world of hapless also-rans in L'important C'est D'aimer is surveyed with a clear and compassionate eye. He has never done anything in his anarchic world by the halves.


On Bruce Springsteen's Music in Film and TV

Bruce Springsteen's music in film and television captured author Caroline Madden's imagination. She discuses her book, Springsteen as Soundtrack, and other things Springsteen in this interview.


Alt-pop's merci, mercy Warns We May "Fall Apart"

Australian alt-pop singer-songwriter, merci, mercy shares a video for her catchy, sophisticated anthem, "Fall Apart".


Tears in Rain: 'Blade Runner' and Philip K. Dick's Legacy in Film

Blade Runner, and the work of Philip K. Dick, continues to find its way into our cinemas and minds. How did the visions of a paranoid loner become the most relevant science fiction of our time?


London Indie-Poppers the Motive Impress on "You" (premiere)

Southwest London's the Motive concoct catchy, indie-pop earworms with breezy melodies, jangly guitars, and hooky riffs, as on their latest single "You".


Vigdis Hjorth's 'Long Live the Post Horn!' Breathes Life into Bureaucratic Anxiety

Vigdis Hjorth's Long Live the Post Horn! is a study in existential torpor that, happily, does not induce the same condition in the reader.


Konqistador and HanHan Team for Darkwave Hip-Hop on "Visaya"

Detroit-based electronic/industrial outfit, Konqistador team with Toronto hip-hopper HanHan for "Visaya", a song that blends darkwave and rap into an incendiary combination.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.