Perfume: The Story of a Murderer -- Untrustworthy Senses

Perfume stars Ben Whishaw as Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, Dustin Hoffman as Giuseppe Baldini and Alan Rickman as Richis.

(Warning: Plot Spoilers Ahead)

Jean-Baptiste is so zealously dedicated to his trade that he kills young women to extract their scent. He eventually makes a perfume that overwhelms other people's ability to think rationally.

General Theme: Our fleshly senses are not dependable for moral guidance.

Toward the end of the movie, Jean-Baptiste is brought before a crowd of people to be executed for his numerous murders. But Jean-Baptiste knows how to win them over: By appealing to their fleshly senses. So he pours a little of his masterpiece perfume on a handkerchief and waves it over the crowd. When they catch the scent they forget all about Jean-Baptiste, get naked and have a huge orgy out in the open air. They yell, "This man is not a criminal, he is an angel!" Even the "holy" bishop, who is supposed to be the people's moral guide, bows down before Jean-Baptiste's fleshly accomplishments.

Richis was more determined than everyone else in his town to protect his daughter, Laura, and bring Jean-Baptiste to justice. But his daughter's death kept him sober only a little longer than everyone else. Just like everyone else, Richis, the father of a murdered daughter, gave way to his fleshly senses.

The point is not that orgies are bad (though they are) or that the Catholic church has a misguided sense of God's justice (though it does). The point is that our fleshly senses are not dependable for moral guidance.

Our flesh wants to take care of itself, that's all it can think to do. This is good so far as we shouldn't take our lives for granted. But God designed us for much more than self-preservation, especially when self-preservation turns into reckless indulgence.


Anonymous said...

Well said. Too many people focus on the unsavory characterization and vile behavior to take any positive meaning from this movie.

john doyle said...

Still, it was a pretty cool orgy scene. It was shot in a square in Barcelona, and all those naked people were local volunteers.

Maybe part of the idea is that the obsessive fetishisation and mystification of femininity kills off the real at the expense of the illusion. The movie contends that Paris became the perfume capital of the world because of all those smelly Parisians walking around the streets. At some point the natural human smell must have become repugnant to civilized Western people -- maybe it was when Descartes re-energized a dualism that made the body something less than the mind. The secret of Jean-Baptiste's perfume was to distill the essence of natural womanly smell, then to sell it back to women who were already exuding an excess of that smell. Sounds like the irony of modern marketing.