David Mackenzie is one of the most renowned Scottish directors of recent years. At the beginning of his career he directed mainly independent films, and it is only lately that he’s followed a more mainstream path. Even though his priorities have now changed, Mackenzie still prefers to shoot in locations in Scotland. So after a small US break, he returns to his homeland for his latest film Perfect Sense. This is his second collaboration with Ewan McGregor after nine years and Young Adam, and his first time working with Eva Green. The film was screened for the first time during the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.
Perfect Sense is a dystopian romantic drama shot in several locations in Glasgow. Susan (Eva Green) is a young epidemiologist who by chance meets Michael (Ewan McGregor), the chef of the nearby restaurant. Their encounter coincides with the outbreak of a global epidemic of which the causes are still unknown. Gradual loss of the senses and rapid changes of feelings are the main symptoms of this disease. In the beginning people lose the sense of smell, then their taste and later hearing and vision. Susan is trying through experiments to explore and identify more about the causes of the disease. In the meantime she is getting involved in a sexual relationship with Michael. Together they will experience all the changes that are caused by the disease and will probably live through humanity’s last days.
Of course Mackenzie’s film is not the first one that is dealing with the end of the world after an epidemic. Also, this is not the first romantic story that evolves in a non-utopian environment. Despite the lack of originality, Mackenzie manages to deliver an interesting movie which avoids the ‘easy’ use of special effects that would fit a typical science fiction flick. Instead, he opts to approach the story in a way which references indie films rather than anything else and manages to produce a decent result. The result, somehow, comes naturally since romantic films are McKenzie’s favorite genre and he has excelled in that field during his career thus far. The film’s screenwriter is Zentropa’s favorite child, Danish writer Kim Fupz Aakeson. This screenplay is his first work for a non-Danish production and also his first science fiction movie. The main idea of the film bears strong similarities with Fernando Meirelles‘ film Blindness, which also deals with vanished sensations. And even though, on the bright side, Aakeson’s script develops that notion further, he still doesn’t seem to delve deeply enough into it. Perfectly adjusted to the feel of the movie are both Giles Nuttgens‘ cinematography and Max Richter‘s score.
It is reasonable to think that a movie which takes place in an apocalyptic period, like Perfect Sense does, would raise philosophical and existential questions especially about the end of the world, and the way in which it will occur. Mackenzie doesn’t take advantage of this opportunity, deals with the topic superficially and doesn’t offer any substantial analysis. The film focuses, almost exclusively, on the love story between the two heroes and centers around the fact that those two people would have never been together under different circumstances. Perfect Sense also depicts the way in which two strictly lonely people can create the perfect couple and how the fear of the impending end can transform them emotionally. The movie becomes quite didactic as it endlessly illustrates one’s need for love and companionship. Consequently, the initial smart idea is gradually lost and the script falls into frequent boring repetitions. The two parallel stories of love and destruction could be related, but, here, it’s impossible for them to meaningfully coexist during a fictional integration and for that reason they only raise unanswered questions. And even though Eva Green and Ewan McGregor manage to avoid the stereotypical portrayal of their characters, they don’t succeed in communicating something more powerful. All in all, narrative gaps and underdeveloped heroes create a suffocated movie, not given any real chance to flourish.
Despite his honest efforts and the good theoretical use of directorial techniques, Mackenzie fails to deliver the result that, perhaps, he himself expected. Two cynical people that fall in love just before the end of the world, is a rather appealing idea. Unfortunately Mackenzie’s cold, stylized but barren approach does not allow the viewer to get emotionally involved with his film.
Previously published at Unsung Films