Perfect Sense has a problem, which isn’t really anything to do with the movie. It’s to do with the fact that we like to pigeonhole film and so that when something comes along that doesn’t fit into any boxes, it tends to fall by the wayside. In the case of Perfect Sense the issue is that the plot synopsis makes it sound like a sci-fi flick, but it’s actually far from that. In reality it’s a rather touching, slightly arty romance, shot through with existentialist musings, but it’s a difficult sell, simply because it doesn’t sound like what it is.
Here’s the plot: Susan (Evan Green) is an epidemiologist, who’s asked to investigate a mysterious illness where people are losing their sense of taste. As this spreads around the globe, Susan meets chef Michael (Ewan McGregor), and the two begin an affair. However losing your sense of taste is only the beginning, and the strange illness continues to its course, slowly stripping people of their senses one by one.
By now you probably have visions on Eva Green in a ridiculously hi-tech lab, fighting to find a cure while a shadowy conspiracy tries to stop her, and Ewan McGregor ending up as the only man who can save the world by engaging in lots of derring do. That’s the plot we’ve come to expect from a film about a global epidemic, but that’s not what we get at all. Instead we get something far more interesting.
It’s mainly a romance between Susan and Michael, with the disease throwing unexpected challenges in their path. Even that makes it sound more generic than it is, because a lot of time is spent looking at mankind’s reaction to the disease on a personal level, and rather than doing it in a typical bombastic film fashion, it does in a way that feels far more personal and involving. While it’s a film about the terrifying idea of slowly being stripped of your senses, it’s a bizarrely hopeful piece. Some have described it as depressing, but I personally found it anything but.
Rather than being solely about a terrible, awful disease and how horrific it would be, it’s about how people find a way through even in the face of great change and suffering. The loss of senses becomes a way to look at how people relate to one another and that no matter what happens to us, we find a way to connect, we adapt and we hold on to those around us. Perfect Sense doesn’t shy away from saying there’s a bad side to humanity, but it has a touching sense of hope that no matter how bad things get, there’s still a spark that’s worth holding onto. It is essentially a movie about the human spirit.
The film does have a few issues, such as occasional audio problems and a tendency towards heavy-handed metaphor, but these are nothing to worry about in the face of a movie that’s otherwise so unexpected, moving and bold.
I suppose the best way to explain Perfect Sense is that usually a film about an epidemic tells its story of a big scale with the hope we’ll care about a few human characters at the movie’s centre, whereas Perfect Sense tells a relatively small scale story so that what happens between a few characters resonates out to speak about humanity as a whole.
The DVD comes with a short interview with Ewan McGregor, taken on the red carpet at the Glasgow Film Festival, as well as a making of featurette, both of which are worth watching.
Overall Verdict: A sci-fi romance that’s far more affecting and thought-provoking than you’d ever expect. Put aside your expectations borne of 1000 other global-catastrophe movies, and enjoy a film that plots its own course and sees hope where you wouldn’t think there’d be any.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac