know that I am puzzled, mesmerized, horrified, and fascinated by it. I’m also very much conflicted, which is why I have decided not to merely review the film. Is it a marvel or is it a mess? Perhaps it can be both.
What follows is my attempt to think my way through a few aspects of the film that stuck out to me. Like most of my posts that aren’t reviews, this post contains spoilers, so don’t read it if that is an issue for you. If you haven’t seen the film, but want to read this post anyway, allow me to direct you to the wiki plot summary so that you can get your bearings.
Also, I have virtually no knowledge at all of the Patrick Suskind novel on which the movie is based. I know that there are many who love the novel and that, before Tykwer’s film was made, many deemed it more or less impossible to adapt. It is possible that familiarity with Suskind’s work would help to clear up some of what I discuss below; but, as I’ve said before, films should also be able to stand up on their own.
The Sense of Smell
As strange as Perfume is, perhaps one of the strangest (and most fascinating) things about it is its overarching interest in the sense of smell. Tykwer’s film discusses smell, and it places scent and smell firmly at its forefront. But the film does much more than just discuss scents and the sense of smell in an abstract way; it also comes as close as it possibly can to rendering scent visible.
Because scent is more or less invisible and is totally silent, the sense of smell is simply not one that films typically seek to engage. Why films usually ignore the olfactory system of their viewers is understandable, but Perfume challenges their tendency to do so. By featuring the sense of smell as it does, by using the visual to evoke scent powerfully, and by strongly impacting viewers, the film almost seems to tap into some secret power that was apparently there for filmmakers to engage with all along.
The fact that scent is typically ignored by cinema is hardly the only reason that its presence and efficacy are important to Perfume. While the film is interested in asserting the general power of scent as well as the fact that it’s virtually everywhere, it also aims to investigate and to reveal what it is that makes scent unique and fascinating.