In his poem “The Hollow Men”, T.S. Eliot famously said “This is the way the world ends, Not with a bang but a whimper.”
In his poem “The Hollow Men”, T.S. Eliot famously said “This
is the way the world ends, Not with a bang but a whimper.” Eliot’s vision was of
a world full of empty, shallow people crying out against the coming
cataclysm in fear and desperation. And this is very much the world which director
David Mackenzie conjures for us in
his apocalyptic tale Perfect Sense.
Michael, played by Ewen McGregor and Susan (Eva Green) are the lovers whose
relationship provides the focus for a tale, set against a backdrop of global
catastrophe. In this instance, the catastrophe comes in the form of a virus
which is slowly robbing the population of one sense after another. Both Michael
and Susan are very much fractured, “hollow” people. Michael is the
narcissistic, head-chef of an upmarket Glasgow restaurant, who is tortured by
his failure to ‘be there’ for his long dead lover. Susan is the aloof,
self-contained scientist who secretly loathes her sister’s children because she
can’t have any of her own. As their world slowly begins to disintegrate around
them, the pair find each other and – in the process – themselves.
However, Perfect Sense is no Andromeda Strain style disaster flick but
a film which, in the best tradition of sci-fi, has the ‘big questions’ firmly
in its sights. As one sense after another is gradually stripped away, we follow
Michael and Susan’s struggle to redefine their lives, their world and their
relationships against their growing sense of grief and loss. Ultimately the
questions that they must face are: What is life about? What is important? And,
Are they truly in love or just sensualists, clinging desperately to each other
because they have nothing else?
Perfect Sense is a well-written
tale and Dutch author, Kim Fupz Aakeson,
provides us with some poignant and heart-wrenching set pieces. It’s beautifully
filmed too, with audiovisuals used to reflect the characters’ changing sensory
environment. But, this is not a film which will be to everyone’s taste. Despite
the creative cinematography, the clever concepts and the skilled direction,
Mackenzie’s vision is as every bit as bleak and as unrelenting as TS Eliot’s.
Psychologically, the drama moves from struggle to submission, from imperious
isolation to desperate desire, and the need for love and a human connection.
Eliot famously said:
“Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow.”
(From “The Hollow Men” T.S. Eliot,
Eliot’s shadows were spiritual.
Mackenzie’s are physical, but both works, arguably, deal with the shallowness
of mere sensory experience and the search for a greater truth.