I’d always imagined what it would be like to see a movie version of the Patrick Suskind novel PERFUME: THE STORY OF A MURDERER after I had read it for the first time a little over a decade ago. I had discovered the book after reading that it was one of Kurt Cobain’s favorite novels and was the direct inspiration for the Nirvana track ‘Scentless Apprentice’. I soon realized what a lot of other fans of the book were thinking – it’d be very difficult for ANY filmmaker to properly adapt PERFUME for the big screen. I’m happy to say that after sitting thru a recent screening of the flick, director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) has done an incredible job and made one of the best novel-to-film adaptations I’ve ever seen.

The story follows the life of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, born into this world under the worst of circumstances on the dirty floors of a fish-market, abandoned by his birth mother, and almost smothered to death by the kids at the orphanage. It’s as if poor Jean-Baptiste is cursed from the beginning. He does however posses an amazing ability. He has the most acute sense of smell and he is able to differentiate the scent of any object he comes across. Ironically enough, he himself is completely scentless.

When he’s a teen, he finally discovers the most exquisite smell he’s ever encountered. That of a beautiful red-headed woman. (Or more specifically, a female virgin.) Attempting to capture it, he accidentally kills this woman. And then becomes obsessed with the idea of capturing this scent. After all, he’s lived in a world that’s cursed and rejected him. He’s completely unnoticeable to every one around him. But perhaps, if he wore a perfume – an intensified version of the scent he’s discovered, people would finally be drawn to him.

He takes up work for a local perfumer named Giuseppe Baldini (played brilliantly by Dustin Hoffman) and begins learning everything there is to know about perfuming and creating & capturing scents. This leads to the murder of more girls in an attempt to capture their scent & use them to create his ultimate “perfume”.

From here on, I’d rather let you, the viewer watch the rest of the story unfold for yourselves. Now, this isn’t exactly “horror” material, but it’s got elements of horror to it. The strange bizarre circumstances surrounding Jean-Baptiste’s life, his eventual change into a murderer, and the overbearing intensity of his loneliness are all present. At the end of the day, he just wants to fit in. Be accepted. Which is easy for any of us to relate to. And because we can relate, the movie becomes more interesting because we are following the life of a murderer and (to an extent) sympathizing with him.

The lead, Jean-Baptiste is played by newcomer Ben Whishaw. It was wise on the filmmakers’ part to cast this role with someone unrecognizable to the average movie-goer. And Ben does an amazing job balancing his range of emotions and obsession with the perfume he’s so determined to create.

Dustin Hoffman seems almost a little out of place at first, but once he begins interacting with his new apprentice, fits into the role of Baldini perfectly & just as I’d imagined him in the novel. In particular, I loved Ben & Dustin’s first scene together in which Baldini is testing his soon-to-be new apprentice by challenging him to mix chemicals to reproduce certain perfumes.

Alan Rickman appears for the second half of the film as the father of one of the girl’s that catches Jean-Baptiste’s desires.

Stylistically, director Tom Tykwer does a great job of telling visual aspects of the story that were very detailed in the novel. (Such as flashing the fate of each character after Jean-Baptiste leaves their lives.) It also helps that there’s a narrator to guide us thru the movie.

While the movie has a long running time, and I’ve already read multiple reviews questioning the ending, I can assure you that it’s exactly as it is in the book. I wondered if perhaps I was at an advantage watching the movie knowing exactly what everything meant from my memories of the novel, but fellow Icons staffer Jsyn saw the movie without reading the book and completely understand the whole story AND it’s ending.

You have to take into account that (as described in the novel), Jean-Baptiste has the most incredible sense of smell. He’s able to determine the scents of objects that most human consider odorless. (Such as copper & glass.) With that in mind, then it should be understood just how intense this character’s sense of smell is to him. (After all, “smell” is considering one of the most powerful of the 5 senses because it’s the sense most associated with memory.)

Big Spoiler regarding the ending: Every living thing releases a pheromone to attract members of the opposite sex. (As often seen with insects.) Imagine what’d it’d be like to capture this pheromone and make it in perfume form. That’s essentially what Jean-Baptiste is trying to accomplish. Now, imagine what a concentrated dose of a perfume made from the pheromones of a dozen women would do to the person smelling it. A few drops could possibly drive people insane with lust & desire. (To the point of a massive orgy.) While the whole bottle might drive people to tear the wearer apart, literally until there was nothing left. Giving the information I just told you, you should have no problems truly understanding the conclusion of Perfume. Spoiler Finished (Come back to this spoiler AFTER seeing the movie.)

There are plenty of different types of films out there these days, and there are plenty of other films that obviously fit more appropriately into the “horror genre”. But PERFUME is one of those rare stories that is totally unique & original enough to cross multiple genres. And that’s why I loved the novel so much, and am thankful that now a movie version exists, which I love equally as much. –Robg.


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