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Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (Review)

A film that smells like no other

by Ruby Yang

A beautiful and dark film, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is about outcast Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Wishaw), a young man who is born with a heightened sense of smell. From glass to frog larvae, there is nothing that Grenouille cannot smell and doesn’t love to smell. There is no distinction from pleasant or foul. To him, every smell is unique. That is, until one day, when Grenouille comes across a smell like no other: the scent of young women. A mixture of beauty, youth, and innocence, Grenouille soon becomes obsessed. He must—no matter what the cost—preserve this smell. Thus, a murderer is born. What sets this movie apart from other serial killer films, however, is that it isn't really about serial killing. At least not in the conventional sense.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
Directed by Tom Tykwer
Cast Ben Whishaw, Dustin Hoffman, Alan Rickman
Release Date 5 January 2006
Ruby's Grade: A-

While the movie’s subtitle leads us to believe we will be watching a film akin to Jack the Ripper, the movie in actuality focuses little on the aspect of murder. Instead, it emphasizes more about the murderer himself, and his story. The murders, as a result, serve only as a plot device to further Grenouille’s story. In other words, this is a movie about perfume. If you’re raising an eyebrow after reading the movie’s plot premise, don’t worry. You’re not alone. When I first heard about this movie, I was skeptical. A movie about making perfume out of women? It was certainly a bizarre concept. But seeing that I felt like watching a period film, I watched it anyways. From the movie’s opening, I was hooked.

The movie’s cinematography is just simply stunning, with beautiful sets and attention to the most minute details such as grime (Spoiler alert: There’s a lot of it too! On that note, thank goodness we can’t actually smell what we’re seeing.) However, what is more impressive is the connection the viewer forms with Grenouille. From his unwanted birth to his unwanted presence at the orphanage, Grenouille has never really fit in. Therefore, as the viewer we sympathize with him. Sure, there’s supposed to be something off about him—that’s why people are turned off by him at first sight. But in our eyes, people are simply not giving him a chance. And so we root for Grenouille, who despite what he does, is the underdog we can relate to in some way. After all, as human beings, all we want is to be accepted and loved by others.

Ben Wishaw’s superb acting only furthers this sympathy for Grenouille. From Grenouille’s eccentricity to his loneliness, we can see the suffering from a life of isolation and his desire to be loved. In other words Wishaw is Grenouille. Unlike some movies where you can easily differentiate the actor and the role he is playing, Wishaw plays Grenouille so life like that it’s easy to forget he’s just an actor or that Grenouille is just a fictional character. Overall, the movie will draw you in with its gorgeous cinematography, move you with the sympathetic (and very believable portrayal of) Grenouille. But most importantly, it will tell you a story about the lengths one man will go through just to be loved in a most unusual, but beautiful manner that will stick with you forever. So if you’re into period films or movies with unique concepts, definitely give this movie a watch.

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