The day I am writing this (not sure when I’ll post it) my horoscope said something like “Today creativity abounds in you” (or something) and I think I’ll need it to get something good written up about this weird movie. I suppose I should mention that I am in a pretty good mood this morning because 1) I got a long overdue haircut so I’m feeling a little spry and 2) my barber called my friend Chris a “pecker” as in “I haven’t seen that little pecker in months”, so my day is off to a good start. I should also mention that this movie is definitely, um, different, in it’s imagery so if I write something like “he accidentally killed the Plum Girl and then ripped off her clothes and sniffed her entire body” – it’s not as bad as that could possibly come across. Hmmm… what else – apparently this is based off of a highly popular book that I have never heard of, but I think I want to buy it and read it if I ever remember. Lastly for the intro – this movie has a ton of nudity in it, mostly involving dead females so, well – there you go.
This movie is clearly divided into three acts, although we don’t get the Tarantino style “Act 1” title card business. This first act takes place in a grossly filthy Paris, the second in an Edenish place called Grasse and the third is, well, hmmm, pretty unbelievable involving the largest orgy in the history of France. Well, maybe not the history of France (considering those crazy Frenchies) but it’s a big one. There is a very large cast (not to mention the hundreds of people doing each other in the street) but most notable here are: Ben Whishaw as Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (who I am going to refer to as JBJ for the sake of my own sanity), Dustin Hoffman, Alan Rickman, a stunning lady named Karoline Herfurth as “The Plum Girl”, a beautiful actress named Rachel Hurd-Wood as JBJ’s object of ultimate desire Laura and a couple of twins that need to be mentioned, Anna and Lauren Gelman. Also, this is directed by the guy who did Run, Lola Run. The cinematography is outstanding, the set design is amazing – even if it is disgusting, the prop department did great and even the musical score was FANTASTIC. The only thing that kept me from really giving this the Epiphany of Light and Beauty is the third act. Oh yeah, and what the fuck is Dustin Hoffman doing in this? His attempt to do a French / English accent was pitiful. For shame!
We open the movie on a disgustingly populated fish market in Paris with John Hurt doing the voice-over. We come to a fish stand and suddenly the lady (yes) squeezes a baby out of her, cuts the cord with a knife and kicks it off into the fish remains for it to go die like her other offspring have and goes back to work. Well, a customer takes a little offense at this and she’s run off as a baby killer and hanged. Let’s note that there is a theme here, any time JBJ “leaves someone”, they end up dead in some fashion. So baby JBJ is sent off to the local orphanage where some older kids take a look at him and he starts audibly sniffing everything and tries to suckle one of the kid’s fingers. “I’m not sleeping with that thing!!” he screams and they try and kill the baby. The house mother person shoos them off and next thing we know he’s five or seven and has the strongest sense of smell in the world. Soon he’s sold to the local tannery (and the house mother dies) and he grows up big and strong and, quite frankly, pretty ugly until one day he heads into town to deliver some goods. There, he is enticed by the smell of perfume (instead of the smell of guts and cow hides) and comes across the Plum Girl. Having never smelled a woman, so to speak, his nose goes crazy, he stalks her, scares her, accidentally kills her, rips off her clothes and sniffs her entire body. (but it’s not that bad).
Well – now he knows what pure aromatic pleasure is and, after he drops off his goods at the local perfume maker’s shop (Dustin Hoffman????) he brews up a concoction for him that blows his mind and he hires him away from the tannery head (who dies). Hoffman teaches him the ropes of how to extract the essence of flowers and JBJ decides he wants to be able to extract the essence of everything: rocks, a horseshoe, glass, a cat, but that doesn’t work out. Hoffman tells him that no one knows perfume until they have learned at Grasse so he sends him off to Grasse to do some learnin’… and dies.
On his way to the perfume college (I guess), haunted by memories of the Plum Girl, he is passed by a wagon containing another beauty (Hurd-Wood) and he realizes that he is going to make THE PERFECT SCENT – the essence of a woman, so to speak. (Here I pause to eat some onion rings). The first step in his experiment is a poor farm girl who we see one minute looking over the side of a loft as someone is climbing up a ladder. The next moment we see her she’s naked in a vat of some sort of solution as he is trying to extract her “essence”. “My experiment has failed…” he laments so he tries idea 2. This involves hiring a prostitute and asking her if he can smear animal fat all over her and cut her hair off so he can let the tallow soak up her scent. Of course she says no, so he bops her over the head, smears the grease all over her, wraps her up in a cloth, lets her marinate for awhile and then extracts her aroma by burning the fat. Sure enough – what do you know and aw shit! – success!!
The next forty minutes of this are pretty fun, including a lengthy montage where Rickman’s character is addressing the city governmental types and shots and scenes of JBJ grabbing a captive, extracting the scents and people finding the bodies of the 11 virgins. It was fun to see how they depicted the city going crazy and getting wild while all of these girls go missing and end up dead. So he now has 11 bottles of womanness but he needs a twelfth to finish the job and his eye is on Rickman’s daughter: the lovely and chaste Hurd-Wood. Well, Rickman’s smart and he knows what’s up, so he takes himself and his daughter out to the beach but JBJ follows them using his Super Nose and I wasn’t going to do SPOILERS but I think I will after all. Let’s just say that he gets his twelfth victim and makes his ultimate, super perfume.
Now we start the last act. JBJ has been caught by Rickman’s men but somehow he managed to sneak his Twelve-Virgin Perfume into his jail cell. At firs I was like what? and then I was like huh? how did he get that in there, c’mon people! but I suppose it’s logical that he must have just shoved it up his ass. Anyway, his captors come to take him to the “kill the mother fucker!!!” throng waiting outside and his torture but he drops a pinch of the perfume on the ground and the guards fall in love with him. Soon he is wearing a very fancy, “Blue Boy” style outfit, smears some of his juice on his neck and heads into the middle of the crowd. Of course, the Executioner calls him an angel and drops the sword and JBJ turns around, drips some perfume on his kerchief, prances around a little bit and then sends the cloth out into the crowd on waves of wind. naturally everyone disrobes and starts doing each other so he’s going to get away scott free. Naturally, before he makes his leave, he has flashbacks of Plum Girl and realizes he can never find love like that no matter what, so he heads back to the Paris fish dock, pours the entire contents of that vial on his head and the poor, run down, filthy, homeless people all gather around him in loving stupor and eat him.
I suppose that was probably the best way to end this – JBJ being eaten by a bunch of filthy sewer-rat people at the place he was born, greased out into the streets by the dock. If I think back on this and the overall movie this was actually pretty good except for the end, and Hoffman – WTF?