“People could close their eyes to greatness, to horrors, to beauty, and their ears to melodies or deceiving words. But they couldn’t escape scent… He who ruled scent ruled the hearts of men.”
‘Perfume’, by Patrick Suskind, is a novel about a boy who’s gifted with an extraordinary sense of smell, but lacks a scent of his own, unlike other people.The boy, Jean Baptiste Grenouille, is so obsessed with the idea of creating the world’s best perfume, that he begins to murder young women to extract their fragrance.
In the movie, the descriptions of scents and stenches are replaced by rich visual imagery. Here’s what I found interesting in both the versions.
Nature vs. nurture- From the moment of his birth, Grenouille is picked up and quickly discarded by all kinds of people, who find him repulsive because of his lack of scent. He grows up without receiving any kind of affection or forming any attachment.
So the real question is this- did the boy become a serial killer because of the way people treated him, or were they justified in treating him that way, because he was born a psychopath?
I think the blame lies with both nature and nurture (or the lack of it, in this case). It’s as G.K. Chesterton said-
“There is the great lesson of ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ that a thing must be loved before it is lovable.”
Demonstration: The best way to win an argument- When Grenouille seeks work as an apprentice with a master perfumer, the man laughs at him and says-
“…talent means nothing, while experience, acquired in humility and with hard work, means everything.”
Grenouille simply proceeds to create a wonderful perfume right then and there, proving him wrong. Why waste time on words, when you can prove your point through actions?
Sympathy for the devil- In the book, Grenouille is a pure psychopath who thinks of people as mere vessels carrying scents. He despises people but wants to have power over them.
“Grenouille was fascinated by the process. If ever anything in his life had kindled his enthusiasm- granted, not a visible enthusiasm but a hidden one, an excitement burning with a cold flame-then it was this procedure for using fire, water, steam, and a cunning apparatus to snatch the scented soul from matter. That scented soul, that ethereal oil, was in fact the best thing about matter, the only reason for his interest in it. The rest of the stupid stuff-the blossoms, leaves, rind, fruit, color, beauty, vitality, and all those other useless qualities-were of no concern to him. They were mere husk and ballast, to be disposed of.”
You still can’t help feeling sorry for someone who’s so lonely, hated by everyone because of something he can’t control.In the movie, he’s a much more sympathetic character ( played by the sensitive- looking Ben Whishaw) and appears to have some tender feelings and regret associated with the first girl who died by his hand.
The scent of a woman- Most women in the book (and movie) are shown as victims or objects of desire. But I don’t consider it sexist at all. After all, Grenouille sees all humans essentially as objects, and chooses his victims purely based on their scent. Besides, there’s the character of Madame Arnulfi, a shrewd and competent woman who runs her own perfume business.
The two acts of passion- I won’t spoil the ending for you, but the last few scenes are quite astonishing. (It must have been incredibly awkward for the actors.) There are two completely different scenarios in which crowds of people are driven by a passion. I’m not sure if the difference was because of the nature of the people involved, or the extent of their passion.
“He would be able to create a scent that was not merely human, but super human, an angel’s scent, so indescribably good and vital that who ever smelt it would be enchanted and with his whole heart would have to love him.”