One year ago, I was at the movies when I first saw the trailer for Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. The trailer gave me chills; I immediately went out and got the book, which gave me chills on top of my chills. I couldn’t stop talking about Perfume and I yearned to watch the movie. Unfortunately, the movie was in limited release and that yearning to see the book visualized went unsatiated for a year…until today.
Patrick Suskind’s Perfume is one of the most original works of fiction in publication. Who would have thought of writing a book entirely devoted to scent? The sense of smell is something we take for granted, it’s certainly something I’ve never thought about. At least while I was reading the book, I developed a new-found appreciation for the ingredients in my hand lotion.
The book’s antagonist, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, fascinates me. He’s born with an unparalleled olfactory ability, but no scent of his own. He spends his youth scurrying like a rat in the bowels of 18th century Paris until one evening, his nose crosses paths with the intoxicating scent of a young girl peeling plums by the river. It is the sweetest scent imaginable: the scent of youth, innocence, beauty. He must somehow capture it, but how does one go about capturing the essence of a person?
I like to think of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille as a pitiful creature who lives in hell but dreams of heaven. He has no scent of his own, which makes him non-human— all humans have their own unique smell. So he steals the scents of others and wears it as a mask in order to make himself blend in. In the book, his existence is compared to a parasitic tick feeling on those around him.
The movie didn’t disappoint. It was visually stunning and faithful to the book.
Ben Whishaw’s plays Jean-Baptiste Grenouille with an icy cold stare that is unnerving yet strangely appealing at the same time. Although, it must be said that Whishaw’s rock hard abs contributed to the appeal (I don’t recall that particular physical attribute in the book, but I’m grateful for addition to the movie).
There’s something so seductively macabre about the unlikely combination of perfume and murder. In the end, I can’t help but imagine a loathsome animal, rooting in the muck, but sniff sniff sniffing its way into the light.