It's 2012, and the end is still coming.
The fin-de-tout romance "Perfect Sense" takes its place in the lengthening queue of recent Apocalypse Noir movies, following such dire warnings as "Melancholia," "Contagion," "Take Shelter," "2012" and anything with Shia Laboeuf.
This time, though, the plague arrives deliriously in the not normally enchanting city of Glasgow. As an unseen narrator begins intoning about men/women, light/dark and so on, director David Mackenzie shows a riot of images. Street scenes, brilliant vegetables, lovers, silvery fish, it is a montage that suggests spice and sweat, screeching and string music, the fuller range of sensation that does not fit through the camera's eye.
But as the narrator (Kate Engels) continues in a poetic and portentous New Age rush, jarring notes of Biblical cruelty intrude. Was that butcher skinning a dog behind his table of carcasses?
It makes a fittingly uncomfortable segue to the comfortable bed where Michael (Ewan McGregor) rolls over and shakes a pretty woman by the shoulder as she dozes. She must go, he announces, because "I can't sleep with another person in the bed."
Meanwhile, out to the west by the port, similarly self-involved Susan (Eva Green) is wandering along the Clyde shore, throwing stones at seagulls while complaining about her latest failed romance to her sister Jenny (Connie Nielsen). "I always pick assholes," Susan says.
Well, at least that doesn't eliminate too many choices. Susan, meet Michael. It turns out his upscale restaurant is diagonally across from her flat. Soon, she is kicking him out of the sack because she wants to sleep alone. They're prefect for one another.
At the medical center where Susan works as an epidemiologist, though, something unsettling is happening. Her colleague Stephen (Stephen Dillane) calls her to consult on a patient in quarantine. His worried wife explains he called from the road to say he no longer saw a point in living.
"He's not usually like that, he's a truck driver," the woman explains.
Sure enough, when he pulled over, he told her he felt better, but had lost his sense of smell. The surly patient has nothing to add for the doctors, only that he wants to leave. When Susan wonders why she has been brought in, Stephen explains that overnight, there have been scores, possibly hundreds, of similar cases around the UK and Europe.
"Perfect Sense" may increase appreciation for the selfless medical responders and researchers of "Contagion," battling on even as a plague thins their ranks. As the loss of smell gradually spreads, Susan and her colleagues wonder what's causing the affliction, and they must be doing something with those caged monkeys, mice and rabbits, but mainly hope it goes away.
So does Michael, since olfactory failure is not a good thing for the restaurant business. "If it smells fishy, it's not fresh," he tells an assistant about a sea bass. "It should smell of the sea." On the other hand, since one of Michael's dishes is "lobster haggis," perhaps smell is not really his thing.
And it's here that screenwriter Kim Fupz Aakeson makes her intentions clearer. Her narrator talks about what is really being lost by humans, the memories triggered by smell. "Cinnamon might remind you of your grandmother's apron... without smell, an ocean of past images disappears."
Then, there are workarounds. At first, the restaurant is empty. After the effects, though, customers start to come back. Sous chef James (Ewen Bremner) and the rest of the kitchen staff load up on spices, sweets, sours. A street performer plucks her violin and offers her auditors leaves to rub while she declaims about the smell of the sky. In their diffident way, Susan and Michael become involved.
McGregor and Green are an attractive couple physically, and neither, especially Green, is shy. She remains comfortable with her Bond Girl architecture, and here adds a guarded prettiness to her usual brisk physicality. McGregor is well put together without the better living through chemistry that distorts many Hollywood bodies.
But neither of their characters are especially nice, or galvanizing, people. The romance of "Perfect Sense" is a very reluctant fairy tale, one of people doing their limited best as things get worse.
For the loss of smell is only a harbinger. It is followed by other waves of powerful emotion _ rage, joy _ presaging more physical losses. Some come suddenly, some are hinted at by distant disasters, fires, riots that gradually come creeping. And then, the next worse thing arrives, and the survivors make adjustments. Restaurant reviews talk of temperature, texture and color.
"Flour and fat, that's all we need to survive," Michael's restaurant owner (Denis Lawson) tells him.
The narrator talks of "days as we know them, the world as we imagine it." That formulation does not simply suggest impending catastrophe, though, it is the way we regularly go through life. Both the world and our imaginations are running on, eluding and chasing, never in sync, especially when we think they are.
"Perfect Sense" is neither a perfect romance nor a perfect apocalypse. But it is a perfectly inventive take on both, with imaginations bounding on even as worldly understanding diminishes.