They say that a scent can trigger memories or could change your entire behavior. Patrick S’skind’s novel gets made into a movie so bizarre, you might never look at a bottle of Chanel N. 5 in the same light.
Circa 18th century France, a skinny young man is dragged out of a prison cell and brought to the balcony of a building in a town square. The imposed sentence is read to a silent crowd. For a series of murders plaguing the area, the man will be gruesomely and publicly executed. The crowd roars in a combination of anger, approval, and impending enjoyment. They’re out for blood, and they want to see some shed. Historically, we know that public executions are viewed as sport and cheered for so hard, it?s comparable to a football game today.
The life of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw) took a frighteningly dark turn. Born to a peasant woman at a fish market in Paris, he was cast aside like the rotting garbage that was in the vicinity. However, his major gift is a greatly superior sense of smell. The baby is bought by a woman who has quite a collection of presumably enslaved children. The others are soured by having to share their squalid conditions with a tiny baby, so they decide to end his life. Obviously, he thrives and we watch him grow up, learning how and to what degree this sense is heightened.
Years later, perfumer Guiseppe Baldini (Dustin Hoffman) has a faltering business, due to the overwhelming popularity of a scent from a rival house. Baldini’s mission is to figure out what?s in it and to find some new inspiration. Sold again to a cruel tannery manager, Jean-Baptiste makes a delivery to the residence. He then demonstrates his expertise by exactly pinpointing all of the different notes of said perfume and then precisely duplicates it. He asks Baldini for the opportunity to stay on as his apprentice. Baldini is at first a bit wary, but once he realizes the potential rewards, the tutelage begins. As Jean-Baptiste learns how essences are extracted, he develops an obsessive compulsion to preserve the scent of anything he can get his hands on, be it animal, mineral, or vegetable.
He sees a pretty redheaded peasant girl selling fruit in the marketplace. Obviously, he is physically attracted to her and oblivious to her, in his “admiration” and “appreciation”, he sniffs her. The girl turns around, and he intensely stares at her. After covering her mouth, in an attempt to muffle out her screams, he ends up smothering her to death. Then comes the part most of us would consider the first truly disturbing act, but I won’t give away such an integral scene to the film. Once you see it, you?ll see why. That?s when he comes up with the idea for the perfect scent. Jean-Baptiste spirals into complete madness. No doubt about it.
What’s in this perfect perfume, you ask? You guessed it. Human beings. Twelve to be exact: corresponding to Baldini’s explanation that up to twelve different notes comprise a single perfume.
That’s when the carnage begins. Quietly and methodically, he stalks his intended victims. All of the girls are found naked, with all of their hair cut off. With the exception of a prostitute, the girls are young, beautiful and virginal. Obviously, the public is in a state of frenzy. The virginity factor is considered the catalyst by everyone, obviously very pious and moral. The most levelheaded of the bunch is Antoine Richis (Alan Rickman), a businessman in the area.
Apparently, Jean-Baptiste has an alpha and omega for his plot. The omega: Antoine’s strikingly beautiful redheaded daughter Laura (Rachel Hurd-Wood). That?s right, Laura is the 12th note needed to complete the perfume.
The last half hour of the film was truly the strangest and most unbelievable. We are whisked back to the gathering at the town square shown in the beginning. Again, I don?t want to give away this portion either, but it?s just as unbelievable as the first.
For the most part, I did enjoy this film, strictly because the concept is definitely unusual. The most shocking scenes could be construed as not being very realistic, though. I was a bit confused by the ending, so I had to conduct further research before I understood it. Whishaw’s performance as a disturbed individual with a seemingly placid demeanor was wonderful. Those into abnormal psychology will have a field day at this film. Interestingly enough, I came out of it with some well-appreciated knowledge: how perfume is made!
Basically, go into this movie with an open mind and prepare to see some behavior that will shock you, but does not detract from the storyline.
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