Perfume: Capturing the scent of a desensythized world

Posted: April 3, 2011 in Analysis, Cinema, Movie Review

Perfume: “The Stroy of a Murderer“, is a 2007 movie based from a novel by Patrick Suskind, and directed by Tom Tykwer is a moving  representation of a world desensythized and aliented from the essences of life. It starred Ben Whishaw as Jean-Baptiste Grenouille.

Set in 18th-century France, the movie takes the audience at the time Jean-Baptiste was born of woman selling fish in a filthy, putrid and pungent market. He was thought to be dead from birth, but then he survived. Later on he was placed in an orphanage by the authorities, as his mother did not bother about him and just kept him there on a rubbish of rotting fish under the table of his mother’s fish stall.

When he grew up to be a teen-ager, he was sold to work in a tannery. Jean-Baptiste had a magnificent talent of capturing the scent around him, from afar he could smell the fragrance and store that in his memory. But he had no scent of his own. The first time he saw the world, he was captivated by the scent of an innocent woman. Obsessed by capturing that scent, he followed her.

Accidentally, in his effort to take that scent as his possession, the woman died in his arms. Then there was nothing to smell from her corpse. Finding a chance to work as an apprentice to reknowned perfume-maker, he learned the craft. He wanted the world to know him for his talent. So his passion brought him into capturing the scent of a woman’s innocence – through a series of murder, culminating to create a powerful potion, but ending on a tragedy of his own death.

The story’s central theme is capturing the essence of the world’s smells in the effort of creating a difference, a distinct fragrance that is paradise. But one can only do so much, and all the world needs of that scent is just little and not too much. There are many archetypes and metaphors used in the story.

With the scents in perfumes come memories of experiences and emotions kept in the recesses of time; and human desires that are stimulated by distinct scents. People collect perfumes, and perfume makers distill elements to capture the essences that would create scents. Those that we smell from perfumes vary from one person to another, one could be fragrantly ecstatic another could be ghastly putrid and obnoxious.

Within Jean-Baptiste’s character was strong urge to give his life meaning, but the world around him is desensythized to understand that passion. Hated, unloved, unnoticed, alienated from the rest of the world, he was driven to prove his worth. As he wanted to possess every smell in the world, he tried to learn as much as he could. His way was different though, because he wanted to possess the scent of people even if that will cost them their lives.

To Jean-Baptiste, life had no worth, all that matter to him was what he can sense by his smell. He had the talent and the gift to concoct the best fragrance in the world. What he really desired is to be fragrant to the world and acquire that invincible power to command love of mankind.

He had no scent, like stones he has no smell of his own. This relates to the fact that he is nobody to anyone, none existent. Because of that fear of his own oblivion it became his personal passion to recreate himself with a mission to find the 13th note in the chord of essential oils.

He understood the way to obtaining the essences of fragrant elements is only by their death, like how the death of 10 thousand fresh roses would make an ounce of essence of rose. He had no obsession of women or their scents, he was obsessed with himself to prove the world that he was exceptional. This is what the desensythized world made him to be, and this is his tragedy.

Every fragrance in the world is made of distinct notes from three sets of chords. These chords is composed of the head, the heart and the base. The head is what is immediately noticed, but the heart is its theme and the base is what is left in the trail of that fragrance. A fragrance is composed of notes from those three chords, their combination is needed, but they can’t have too much of everything. 

A desensythized world is a scent that loses its theme.  From the movie, it can be learned that to make the best perfume one needs experience, humilty and hardwork. In this it can be understood that one needs, to use his head, feel with their heart and stand on base that is firm and moral. These are what the world needs to be fragrant to everyone, that no perfume can ever have.


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