Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006)
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006)

Genre: Crime Drama and Fantasy Running Time: 2 hrs. 27 min.

Release Date: December 27th, 2006 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Tom Tykwer Actors: Ben Whishaw, Dustin Hoffman, Alan Rickman, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Karoline Herfurth, Carolina Vera, Sara Forestier, Jessica Schwarz, John Hurt




meritorious overall design and an intriguing start are promptly buried by exceptionally unconventional twists and a laughably bizarre conclusion in Tom Tykwer’s “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer.” With undertones of “The Silence of the Lambs” and a beautifully haunting score (by Pale 3, a collaboration between Tykwer and composers Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek), audiences are, unfortunately, intended to root for an antihero so devious that satisfaction for his resolution is all but impossible. Based on the perceivably unfilmable bestselling novel by Patrick Suskind, the world of scents and smells certainly appears visually delightful, even if it fails to be wholly entertaining or psychologically graspable.

In 18th-century France, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Wishaw) is born to a nauseating fishmonger (Birgit Minichmayr), who promptly disposes of the boy in a pile of rotting fish carcasses and writhing maggots. She earns the noose for her troubles, while Grenouille is sent to grow up in an orphanage, where he discovers his astounding ability to discern every type of smell. He is sold to a vile tanner, but, during a fortuitous delivery, happens upon Giuseppe Baldini (Dustin Hoffman), a déclassé perfumer, who quickly buys Grenouille when he witnesses the youth’s skills for deciphering the ingredients used in a rival’s perfume. After a chance encounter with a young girl leads Jean-Baptiste to obsess over the unobtainable scent of womanhood, he ignites a killing spree of several women in the city of Grasse, using their bodies to experiment in creating the elusive aroma. Suspecting foul play, Antoine Richis (Alan Rickman) struggles to protect his daughter, the most enticing woman in Grasse, whom he speculates might be the final ingredient in Grenouille’s relentless scheme.

Newcomer Ben Wishaw plays the gently murderous Grenouille with a morbid yet enticing fervor, leading the viewer to anxiously await his successive psychotic endeavors. Hoffman and Rickman also lend their expert acting talents; Hoffman mainly for comic relief, and Rickman for a much needed, strict normalcy. And that sense of customariness is what “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer” so desperately lacks, as the perverted events abruptly spiral downward into an unfathomable conclusion. So many individual pieces work in favor of the film, but nothing can save it from its intangible plot. Audiences follow the deeds of Grenouille much in the same way they might support the obviously villainous Hannibal Lecter, except that in “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer,” there is no Clarice Starling counterpart to generate a relatable, balancing figure of righteousness. As much as the project is visually stunning, the eccentricity is so overwhelming that by the unpredictable and candidly absurd finale, there’s nothing to dwell on but heinousness. Culminating with a surprising display of sexual deviance, the magnificence and allure of the characters and milieus are utterly disbanded, resulting only in disbelief and confusion. Though curiously reminiscent of the works of David Lynch, Shinya Tsukamoto, and Alejandro Jodorowsky, filmmaker Tom Tykwer achieves few genuine notes of their often satisfyingly macabre concoctions.

One of the only truly redeeming aspects of the film is the captivating score, which boasts a recurring, melodic theme that permeates the oftentimes grisly look of the filthy cities depicted. The major settings – first Paris where Jean-Baptiste is born, and then Grasse where he journeys to discover the secrets of preserving scents – are grandly recreated in all their dismal, period-piece glory. Elaborate costumes, vivid makeup, and a striking color scheme are lavishly produced, giving the abundance of highly aromatic props and supplementary images a feeling of nearly bursting from the screen. But for all the emotions it might evoke, only fans of edgy, deranged cinema will find this singular fantasy palatable; the majority of average moviegoers will be paled by the deficient denouement and its lengthy two-and-a-half-hour duration.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10