Before you continue, spoiler warning. This is a full synopsis and review of Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, 2006.
What’s in a scent, you ask? Murder, apparently.
At least, in the case of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille.
Born in Paris, France in 1738, Grenouille’s mother, who committed infanticide, or, at least, tried to kill him as soon as he was born, is immediately arrested and eventually executed for her crimes after being discovered by an onlooker.
Grenouille, with an exceptional sense of smell, is able to distinguish all the varying notes in a scent from a perfume, for example, that granted him acknowledgement and notoriety in the perfume trade. He can even navigate in total darkness by just smell alone. It was on a fine day that Grenouille catches the scent of something new to him – a scent of a young girl who has just entered puberty. The scent captivates him so much that he determines that he wants the scent only for himself. The prey to be is stalked and killed by Grenouille – who stays with the body until the scent fades away. Distraught to discover that the scent only lasts for a few moments after death, he searches for a way to capture scent.
It was through impressing Baldini, a perfume shop owner, that he landed a job as a perfume maker. Baldini teaches him the processes and science of crafting a perfume and the distillation process he can use to preserve odors. The technique apparently cannot capture the scent of most everything else like that off minerals, and the cat he experimented on. Distraught, Grenouille loses the will to live and reaches the brink of death.
On his deathbed, he asks Baldini if there are no other ways to capture scent. Baldini admits there is one ancient technique to where only the best perfumes come from, Grasse, and it is only there where he will discover how to do it. Regaining the will to live, Grenouille is back on his feet a week later asking Baldini for help. Grenouille needed journeyman papers to be able to travel; Baldini obliged in exchange for 100 perfume formulas.
En route to Grasse, Grenouille decides to exile himself from society, taking refuge in a cave. During this time, he discovers that he lacks any scent of his own, and believes this is why he is perceived as strange or disturbing by others. Deciding to continue his quest, he leaves his cave and continues to Grasse.
It was when Grenouille arrived in Grasse where he chanced upon the scent of Laura Richis, a beautiful red-headed daughter of the wealthy Antoine Richis and decided she would be the final scent needed for the perfume of all perfumes. Grenouille lands a job in Grasse that teaches him the method of enfleurage, a process that utilizes animal fat to capture scent in preparation for distillation. After a few attempts at failing to capture scent, Grenouille discovers that cold enfleurage is the best method to extract the scent of his victims. After a short killing spree of 12 women on the cusp of womanhood, Grenouille decides it’s time to take the scent of Laura Richis for himself.
During a church sermon excommunicating Grenouille, the priest was interrupted for an announcement that the killer has been captured. Richis remains unconvinced and whisks away his daughter to an undisclosed location. Grenouille is able to pick up her scent and murders her in an inn before being discovered.
Soldiers find and capture Grenouille just moments after being able to finish his perfume. On the day of his execution, Grenouille applies a drop on himself forcing the soldiers to release him. The scent is so captivating that the executioner and the crowd all declare his innocence before falling into a mass orgy.
Grenouille soon realises that he has the power to rule the world with the bottle of perfume he wields but has neither the ability to love nor be loved like a normal person. Disenchanted by this now aimless quest, he makes his way back to the Parisian fish market where he was born and douses himself with the perfume. Overwhelmed by the scent, the crowd around him thought of him an angel and devoured him until nothing was left. Everyone left thinking that they have truly loved.
Apart from the compelling story, Tom Tykwer’s techniques of being able to make the audience smell what they were seeing allows a deeper understanding of what goes on through the mind of Grenouille. It would have been more compelling if Tykwer did away with the narration altogether instead of guiding the audience’s hand through what was obviously already there.
Perfume: A Story of a Murderer should be a film considered as a horror film in letting the audience realize how far can man take something as trivial as perfume if he had a way to be able to make the perfume of all perfumes, for example.
The film also allows the audience to be able to understand how much more pointless life is if the sole purpose is greed, and obsession. At the same time, those who seemingly have all the power in the world, have worked so hard in achieving this material goal that it is only too late that they finally realise that they have grown old without love and without being able to love.
It’s horrific in a way that man has always been told similar stories with varying degrees of complications and the ability to be able to take for themselves something so powerful if they obsess enough over it but then we lose all meaning of life in doing so.
What did you think of Perfume : The Story of a Murderer?