Like another science-based tragedy, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go—the book, not the movie—David Mackenzie’s Perfect Sense, from a script by Kim Fupz Aakeson, troubles with haunting grace. Both works deal with inexorable loss, made more frightening by its incremental nature.
But instead of Never‘s group of people in a hermetic circle, PS concerns a frightening pandemic, a disaster similar in scope to the approaching planet in Lars von Trier’s Melancholia (the fact that both movies are penned by Danes is interesting, even if only coincidence).
It’s difficult to write about the story without spoiling, and I truly hope you’ll see the movie, particularly after the drubbing from the critics, who almost universally condemned it for being “too lyrical.” I dislike precious as much as anyone, so maybe it’s that I’m in a slightly melancholy mood of late. And condemning something based on its lyricism is, to me, like criticizing a poem for being “too poetic” or a ballet for being “too beautiful.” I could understand if the lyricism felt forced but it feels right (more on that under item 3 below). The movie’s not a masterpiece, but I still loved it.Here are a few reasons why:
1. Eva Green. I can’t imagine anyone who saw Bertolucci’s The Dreamers not developing a crush on this dark beauty, with her giant eyes and goofy grin. The last thing I saw her in was the David Hamilton-esque (aka, pretty awful) Cracks. It’s wonderful to see her in a grown-up lead, especially with…
2. Ewan MacGregor. This guy can’t be bad, even when stuck playing young Alec Guinness in those awful Star Wars movies. Here, he doesn’t have to clean up his lovely Scottish accent, and his character shifts beautifully from ace self-preservationist to a man most beautiful when he is broken.
3. The interstitials. Mackenzie and Aakeson took a huge risk with this aspect of the movie, which collages together photos and clips with voice over via Kelly-Macdonald sound-alike Katy Engels. I typically am not fond of voiceover, but it works here; the sequences ground the movie in the fact that the problems of two people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this world, and that that world is a big, amazing place, and that people react to loss in similar ways, no matter where they are.
The critics rounded up on Wikipedia do not like this; like the singing sequence in Magnolia, you either go with it (the minority) or are afraid of it (I think fear, primarily of changing one’s ideas, motivates the most vociferous criticism). Tirdad Derakhshani of The Philadelphia Inquirer (same source) snarked, “The film loses its charm with annoying sequences that have a narrator explain to us ‘The Meaning of it All’ and then tell us ‘What Really Matters’ in life: Love. Love. Love’.”
YES. What is more important? That Love Love Love message can never be trite, never be repeated too often. Perfect Sense says it. And unlike most apocalyptic movies, it finds beauty and joy, fueled by people’s extraordinary resilience and refusal to deny the light, no matter what the circumstances.