With its relentlessly serious tone and a rigorous commitment to showcasing how two people are affected by a worldwide crisis, David Mackenzie's global-pandemic thriller/romantic drama Perfect Sense plays like an extended Twilight Zone episode. This is meant both as a compliment and a criticism.
The movie stars Eva Green as an epidemiologist named Susan, who, early in the film, consults with another doctor about the strange case of a truck driver who went into a fierce and prolonged crying jag and then promptly lost his sense of smell. There's no biological explanation for why this has happened as there's no sign of an infection or a virus, and even worse, he's one of a handful of people around the globe who has experienced these symptoms.
As this epidemic inevitably strikes every human on earth, Susan meets Michael (Ewan McGregor), a chef who loves to seduce women and then kick them out of his apartment, claiming he can't sleep if someone else is in his bed. Soon, the two give into their obvious lust for each other (and let's be honest, these are two of the sexiest people in movies right now, so it's really all for the best), and not long after that each is hit with the disease.
This leads to the most fascinating section of the film, as Danish screenwriter Kim Fupz Aakeson shows a keen understanding of how humanity as a whole would adjust to a world where this is the new normal. Even when matters are complicated by a new wave of sickness that forever takes away a person's sense of taste (right after a paranoid tantrum and then a 60-second eating frenzy), his vision of how restaurants manage to thrive has a brilliant logic to it that works as a metaphor for how society quickly retains order in the face of seeming madness. There's a chilly inevitability that brings to mind Rod Serling's best work.
If the movie had ended here, with the lovebirds finding some sense of normalcy in a world that's become remarkably foreign from our own, Perfect Sense would be a 45-minute winner. But as the situation worsens and the picture runs toward the conventions of a romantic drama, Perfect Sense grows redundant, pretentious, and just silly.
You can't blame the actors: Green and McGregor try to bring some realism to this situation, even when the ridiculousness of it makes the film's obvious desire to become a parable about finding love when we are so cut off from each other painfully clear. The movie simply pushes too hard in its second half, abandoning subtlety once and for all in its final seconds for a purple-prose voice-over that recalls the most annoyingly over-written quality of Rod Serling's worst work.
There are enough really interesting ideas in this story that it's hard to deny how fascinating it is, but it doesn't come together in the end. The final scene strives for an overwhelming dramatic power that it can't muster, in large part because we already understand the point. If Mackenzie had pulled back just a little -- if he'd let the audience make the connections to his larger themes instead of hammering home what it all means -- Perfect Sense would be as haunting as he'd hoped.