Directed by David MacKenzie
Starring Eva Green, Ewan McGregor
Are we witnessing the birth of the Generation X/Y/Z (delete as appropriate) romantic film? One of the first things that struck me about Perfect Sense, the new romantic SF drama starring Ewan McGregor and Eva Green was just how uncertain its distributors are with their marketing of the film, as judging by the trailer they appear to have sidelined one of the more prominent elements of the movie which can roughly be parsed as the end of the world as we know it. Whilst the film is quite clearly an allegory on the nature of human relations and the power of affection and trust in the face of imminent catastrophe this obfuscation does seem to make more sense after seeing the film, as Perfect Sense is certainly more attuned to the definitions of adult drama and the complaisant joys of human relations rather than following the Roland Emmerich model of on-screen carnage. There’s been a recent trend of couples bonding through a shared catastrophe or crisis (The Adjustment Bureau, the forthcoming Sundance smash Another Earth and Extraterrestre, the critically adored Monsters), a reaction perhaps against the diminishing returns of the rom-com model, these films which seem to be aimed at more savy and selective cinema goers can frequently map to the usual algorithms of the genre (a couple meets, falls in love, conflict, spilt-up, reconciliation) a technique that is nothing new of course – we can look back to 1934 and witness Gable and Colbert suffering It Happened One Night for the genesis of that model – with a slight twist as the matters of the human heart are compromised in conjunction with civilisation threatening events which push the genre into more contemporary and more pressing waters.
Susan (Eva Green) is a lonely scientist / doctor who becomes witness to an unexplained outbreak of a unique pathology, a cluster of her fellow Glaswegians are suffering swift bursts of severe depression before losing their sense of smell. With no identifiable connection between the sufferers this epidemic soon begins to sweep not only Scotland but also the UK and continental Europe, prompting allegations of a botched terrorist biological attack, the unintended consequences of environmental degradation, or perhaps an intervention from a less secular source. After falling into bed with local chef Michael (McGregor) – his restaurant providing an efficient fulcrum to explore subsequent events – a stumbling and hesitant romance ignites against a deteriorating contagion as the second phase of the virus strikes, this time prompting uncontrollable hunger before the sufferers sense of taste vanishes forever. As the crisis deepens and future waves seem inevitable both Susan and Michael will have to face both their fears of commitment and vulnerability as society crumbles like their emotional shields….
As always this sort of film lives or dies by the chemistry between the two leads and Green’s fragile exterior blends agreeably with McGregor’s earthy charms, and despite the ludicrous premise the film plays the events straight and just about evades mirth, even during some ridiculous scenes of hunger ravaged characters chugging down raw meat and fish, chased with generous lashings of condiments and ketchup. Director David MacKenzie follows up his successful collaboration with McGregor in Young Adam with another thoughtful and engineered piece of work, staging moments in reflections of mirrors and windows to isolate the solitary characters, and generally providing a requisite aura of civilisation slowly falling apart. The film is peppered with identikit montages that illustrate the effects of the epidemic all over the globe, presumably to prise open the films Scottish locale and provoke a sense of a shared, global humanity which is mostly successful, although the design does remind one of the projects limited budget. Crucially the romance works through Green and McGregor’s skills and one confessional scene in particular lingers in the memory as the thawing of their defences starts with a drunken game of ‘truth or dare’. Maybe its a sign of the times that we’re trying to cling to some ideology of eternal love, of an unalterable champion of the human condition in the face of an unrestrained financial descent, environmental destruction, a distressing shift to right-wing dogma and growing civic discontent, but the deux ex machina remains concealed and there are no suggestions that this medical apocalypse is the frenzy of a wrathful god or the instrument of fringe lunatics, as the story and the film end more with a whimper than a bang.
– John McEntee