Friday, November 13, 2009

A two-and-a-half hour long WTF moment

Last night I was with a group of people, one of whom put on the movie Perfume: The Story of a Murderer saying that his brother had recommended it to him. I should note that the last time this happened to me, specifically where a family member recommended a dark-themed movie to one of my friends, I ended up seeing Kids in the GPhi TV room with Michelle. And that was the most disturbing film I'd ever seen -- right up there with Requiem for a Dream, except that I found Requiem to be less exploitative and therefore, to me, more acceptable.

The comparison turned out to be pretty on par. I hated Perfume. The Cliff's Notes version of the story is this: the protagonist is an orphan, sold into slavery. He is blessed with an exceptional nose that can detect any aroma/scent/fragrance/odor for (the film would have you believe) miles, and his gift lands him working for a perfumist (not the correct term, but I don't care) in Paris. Within the first 20 minutes, he comes across the most delightful smell he's ever encountered: the smell of a girl walking down the street. He creepily stalks behind her and sniffs her; when she is frightened and tries to escape, he holds her down and ends up strangling her. He's devastated when, upon her death, her scent evaporates and is lost. This experience causes him through is work in the perfume labs to want to be able to capture any scent forever.

So time goes by (over an hour) and he finds out how to capture the scent of a woman, but the catch is, they have to be dead, and he has to immediately wrap their bodies in cheesecloth soaked in animal fat to catch the scents before the leave the corpses. So he goes on a killing spree, bottling the fragrances of as many beautiful girls as he thinks it will take to make the perfect perfume.

For the sake of you reading this whose curiosity might just drive you to actually see this movie, I'll not tell you what happens at the end. I'll simply note that when I was watching it, I said "This is the dumbest shit I have ever seen, and that includes the Paris Hilton sorority movie." Which is pretty much true. In different ways, the two films were equally offensive to me.

I had heard of the film before, but I hadn't heard much about what people thought of it. So after my loathing reaction last night, I took to the internet to find out what kind of mass consumer appeal it had. As it turns out, it's one of those love-it-or-hate-it types of films where the people who hate it don't understand how anyone could love it (me) and the people who love it think the people who hate it just don't understand art. And sure, I could see that the way it was filmed was artistically pleasing - it took great care to paint stunning visual images in every scene. It had a magical realism vibe to it, which in and of itself does frequently seem to lend an aura of creativity to films and books that utilize it.

But in the end, I just couldn't get over the disgusting misogyny of the story. Thirteen women die in the film so that he can make an otherworldly perfume, disposable women who we intentionally are given very little background about because we're not supposed to care if they die. I saw this argument made on some IMDB boards that I was perusing to read other people's thoughts on it, and a lot of the comments against the argument were singing the tune of "You're missing the point," "You're making a big deal out of nothing," "It's just a movie, it's not supposed to reflect reality," and "It was creatively done, and everyone knows it's not possible, it's just for the story." I just can't disagree more. This movie, for me, was no different than a stupid slasher movie with some dude going around killing girls (but even slasher movies slay the occasional guy.) Just because you throw some sepia-tone on the film and the background motive of trying to create something beautiful, it doesn't justify the plethora of stories in cinema that do little else other than to perpetuate the notion that violence against women makes for worthwhile entertainment.

The one thing that kills me, because the truth hurts, is that something I read over and over on from established critics is that this movie is the type that "love it or hate it, it stays with you." That's the truth - I can't stop thinking about it. It's on my mind enough that I wrote a lengthy blog post on it, even though the sardonic bit of me would like to believe that the freaking 2.5 hours I spent watching the movie were a huge waste and I'd rather not waste more time thinking about it. I guess then, that's one area in which the movie is a huge success. You can love it, love the provocative story, and want to recommend it, or you can hate it, hate the provocative story, but find yourself unable to forget it.

It's Kids all over again.

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