Story of the Movie "Perfume"

by John Cagney Nash

The movie "Perfume" -- the full title is "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer" -- is a 2006 German film directed by Tom Tykwer. The screenplay was written by Tykwer, Andrew Birkin and Bernd Eichinger, based on Patrick Suskind's 1985 novel "Perfume." Critical reception was mixed; the consensus was that although the cinematography was peerless, the screenplay fell short.

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The Lead Character

Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is an olfactory genius. He can identify scent, remember, and reproduce any scent given the correct ingredients. He is obsessed with finding or distilling the perfect scent, and he doesn't let the need to commit the occasional killing interfere with that obsession. The movie opens with Grenouille being sentenced to death for murder. His story is told through a series of flashbacks between that sentencing and his impending execution.

Grenouille's Origins

Grenouille was abandoned in a French fish market at birth, then raised in an orphanage. Detached even by the standards of other boys in his situation, he soon realizes he has a superhuman sense of smell. As a preteen he is removed from the orphanage by a tanner, in whose premises the smells are so ghastly and overpowering that Grenouille tries to ignore them. As a young man he is sent on a delivery to Paris, where he discovers that smells can also be pleasant, and he revels in them. He follows a girl selling plums who is disturbed by his behavior; when she scares him by crying out, he kills her, then strips her and looses himself in her scent. This is the beginning of his obsession with recreating the scent of a woman.

Perfume Makers and Undertakers

Months later Grenouille is sent on a delivery to a perfume shop. The perfumer's career is in a slump, but Grenouille amazes him with his ability to identify scents, then creates new ones that revivify the business. The young man demands education as pay, and the perfumer teaches him that all scents are a combination of only 12 primary scents; he also learns the perfumer's method of distilling scent from objects. However, the distilling technique has its limits, and Grenouille learns that an alternative method is practiced in secret in a town named Grasse. Grenouille travels to Grasse, where he encounters the daughter of a wealthy local aristocrat; feeling an irresistible attraction to her, he decides that he must distill her to make a 13th primary scent: the scent of a woman. He takes employment with a local perfumer to learn the alternative technique, called enfleurage. To determine whether enfleurage will allow him to distil the scent of a human, Grenouille kills a lavender picker, but the experiment fails. He embarks upon a killing spree -- his victims are always young women -- and tries again and again, without success. He becomes convinced that only the aristocrat's daughter is sufficiently flawless to provide the scent he needs.

The Sweet Smell of Excess (Spoiler)

Grasse is in a panic at the murders. The aristocrat leaves, taking his daughter with him, but they do not escape Grenouille. Grenouille, in turn, does not escape justice, but on the day set for his execution he puts a drop of his perfume on himself. The court, the executioner and the crowd are bemused and hypnotized by its complexity and beauty. The town square is packed for the execution, and all attendees are overcome with lust; the entire population of Grasse strips and falls into an orgy. Even the aristocrat is overcome, embracing Grenouille as his son. When everyone eventually comes to their senses they are convinced that the author of such an exquisite sensation could not be a killer, so they execute an innocent man instead.

Makes Perfect Scents to Him (Spoiler)

Grenouille leaves the town, knowing that his precious scent might allow him to rule the world but that he will never find love, what with the aristocrat's daughter still being his definition of perfection, and also still being dead. Thus disenchanted, he returns to Paris, to the fish market in which he was born, and pours the entire bottle of his perfect perfume over himself. The people around him become immediately convinced that he is an angel, and each sets about trying to grab a little bit of him for themselves. Their lust for his perfection becomes so great they devour him whole: Only his clothes are left, along with the open perfume bottle, inside which one drop remains.

About the Author

John Cagney Nash began composing press releases and event reviews for British nightclubs in 1982. His material was first published in the "Eastern Daily Press." Nash's work focuses on American life, travel and the music industry. In 1998 he earned an OxBridge doctorate in philosophy and immediately emigrated to America.

Photo Credits

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