Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Perfect Scent for a Little Pink Princess?

reflections on perfection and perfume in Black Swan (2010)
directed by Darren Aronofsky

Perfume is seldom given much air time in films--whether feature length or series episodes--part of the reason for which may simply be that scent is not visual. Perhaps even more importantly, perfume is simply not an important part of life for the vast majority of humanity, avid perfumistas notwithstanding. When perfume does make a brief appearance, it usually serves as a setting prop, a part of the interior decoration of a space where one of the protagonists lives. 

In Black Swan, starring Natalie Portman,Vincent Cassel, and Mila Kunis, with important contributing roles by Barbara Hershey and Winona Ryder, perfume is shown only a couple of times, and it is the same bottle.

From the shape, anyone who knows anything about perfume recognizes that it is Chanel, but which Chanel perfume might this little bottle contain? To answer that question, one must consider the bottle in context. Nina (the Natalie Portman character), a twenty-year-old ballerina whose life quest is "to be perfect," has boosted the little bottle of extrait from Beth (the Winona Ryder character), who is described by some catty younger ballerinas in the same troupe (the New York Ballet) as "approaching menopause." 

That is, of course, why "the little princess" is on her way out the door, while her mentor and former lover, Thomas Leroy, the exceedingly French ballet director (played by Vincent Cassel), is attempting to fill Beth's now tattered toe shoes.

That's a lot to keep track of, for those who have not seen the film, which I do recommend, despite some gripes. Here is my IMDB review:

Psychological Thriller--not film noir


3 October 2014
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I was very intrigued to see that Black Swan was included in the 2014 Film Noir encyclopedia (published by Taschen). Maybe I don't understand what film noir is, but it seems that some people (the editors of that volume) were laboring under the ill-conceived notion that the word 'black' in the title "Black Swan" was a sufficient qualifying noir element. I respectfully disagree.

There is no crime in this movie at all. There is no mystery. There is the psychological and emotional breakdown of a ballerina under intense pressure by her mother and herself to be perfect. There is a sexist dance director who preys on his star ballerinas until they grow too old, at which point he kicks his "little princess" to the curb to make room for the next lay in line.

That all may sound pretty negative, so why did I give this movie a '7'? Because it really is the film equivalent of a page turner. There is lots of forward momentum, which keeps the story from ever becoming boring-- though I see that many of the "hate it" reviewers found the whole thing tedious. One detractor suggested that time would be better spent watching paint dry.

I do agree with the naysayers that the rival ballerina character, played by Mila Kunis (who had a huge full-back tattoo--hello? In a professional ballet troupe????) was not very believable. She seemed more like a frat girl looking to rack up as many one-night stands as possible in the shortest amount of time. I also dislike this director's general tendency toward hyperbole and histrionics, often verging on hysteria. (See: Requiem for a Dream for much, much more on that...). There is a heavy-handed but arguably incoherent Freudian undercurrent throughout this film. (If the Freudian line were right, then a less- frigid Nina would simply abandon ballet...)

Which reminds me of the fundamental problem with Black Swan: each short scene is brim with energy and seeming significance, but then nothing ever really ties it all together in a coherent way. The ending turns out to have nothing really to do with anything that preceded it--aside from the fact that Nina has had a major mental breakdown. Perhaps the harsh detractors were displeased that the action depicted throughout the film oscillates wildly between objective and subjective reality. Lots of hallucinations are included through the use of special effects in scenes which seem initially to be about the world of the film, not the skewed world of the main character's mind.

Nina, the Natalie Portman character, is exceptionally neurotic and annoying, to be perfectly frank. She constantly scratches herself, to the point of causing rashes and bleeding down her back. I was not convinced that such a woman/girl could really make it to the big league of ballet, for which the competition is no doubt incredibly intense. Nina is so fragile and devoid of self-esteem that Portman's performance struck me as more consistent with an introverted outcast devoid of any friends. For that role, I'd say her acting was good. Think: Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club. For this one? I was not convinced.

I was happy to see the star of La Haine (Vincent Cassel) in the male lead role, though it was also somewhat annoyingly stereotypical. (All powerful French men are sexual predators--ce n'est pas vrai?) Despite its many flaws and its massive melodrama and endless clichés and stereotypes, I still found Black Swan worth watching. Would I watch it a second time? Probably not. So, to me, this is no masterpiece (a necessary criterion for which is the desire and even compulsion to view the film over and over again). But I do believe that Black Swan is worth watching once.

I did not see this film back when it was released in 2010. Apparently it garnered lots of critical acclaim and generated something of a cult following, as did the notorious Requiem for a Dream (2000), an oeuvre de jeunesse of this same director, Darren "Sledgehammer" Aronofsky. I am not at all fond of this sort of "shock and awe" film making, but in Black Swan there are enough competing themes woven throughout that even though all of them are pretty simpleminded and sometimes sophomoric, the sledgehammer effect is moderated to some extent. Which theme appealed most to those who love this film? Take your pick from the Aronofsky arsenal of pseudo and semi-intellectual clichés:

  • true art demands sacrifice
  • failed parents push their children to be what they never became
  • women are esteemed for their physical beauty while still young, after which society cruelly deems that they are best hidden away far from view
  • art is an inferior substitute for sex (Freud 101)
  • everyone is incestuous and gay, to a greater or lesser extent (Freud 102)

The list literally goes on and on... From my rather negative reaction to the "just say no" War on Drugs feature-length info-mercial, Requiem for a Dream, I am now prepared to state, as the conclusion of an induction on two cases, that subtlety is not Mr. Aronofsky's forte.

Of course, that is precisely why he has been heralded as a true auteur by those who adore him: his messages are so loud and strident that you'd have to be stone deaf not to hear them. They also echo piles of platitudes bouncing around like so many ping-pong balls in nearly anyone's cranium, thus persuading them to believe that he really "gets it"--whatever one happens to believe.

Is Black Swan about achieving artistic perfection? Or is it about abject failure, the self-destruction of a young woman who tries hard to be perfect, but cannot surmount her own pathetic desire to please others: her mother, her director, her predecessor, the audience--in effect: anyone and everyone.

This need to please, to "be good", to endear herself to other people, to do what everyone thinks that she should do, consumes Nina's entire being. 

The number one culprit in this film, even above her lecherous director, is Nina's "self-sacrificing" mother Erica, who lives with her adult daughter and continues to fret over her as though she were still a small child. Erica is terrified of losing control and letting go of the last remaining hope that her own squandered life might still achieve some sort of vicarious meaning, however remote.

We've all heard and seen this song and dance over and over again, yet people continue to repeat the same mistake with each new generation. 

Alas, the fruit does not fall far from the tree: both Nina and her mother lack any degree of nobility of spirit. Who or what is to blame? Nature or nurture? Take your pick.

The mother and daughter are entirely obsessed with fame and success and with achieving the recognition of other people. For this reason, I find it ludicrous to consider them artists at all. Nina and her mother aspire to acclaim, not to "artistic perfection," whatever that's supposed to mean.

The perfume of perfection, then, turns out to be whatever Beth (Leroy's former "little princess") happened to wear. Had she worn Aquolina Pink Sugar, Nina would have stolen that bottle instead. Nina is devoid of any capacity for judging anything beyond a set of values generated by la foule. She looks out into the audience yearning for their applause, and that is why she steals Beth's lipstick, cigarettes, diamond earring studs and perfume.

Nina is altogether incapable of evaluating the quality of a perfume. Left to her own devices, she might well choose Pink Sugar--for its "pretty pink" color, as she describes the grapefruit her mother serves her for breakfast. Pink is also the color of the huge, thickly iced strawberry cake Erica buys to celebrate her daughter's success in being named the Swan Queen. 

Beth's bottle in all likelihood contains Chanel no 5. Why? Because it is a famous and even legendary perfume--perfect for a princess. Nina believes that by following Beth's example, she can become Leroy's new "little princess". Judging by her mother's silence on the matter, it seems that Nina does not really wear the perfume, except perhaps for her visit to Mr. Leroy's office, where she asks for the lead role of the Swan Queen in the upcoming production of Swan Lake. 

Nina may have worn the perfume along with the lipstick in her desperate effort to win the lead role, for the director does note that she has come to him all "dolled up". However, the aspiring Swan Queen definitely does not wear the perfume at home. Her mother takes note of the diamond studs in her daughter's ears but says not a word about the perfume scent which surely would waft strongly from anyone who applied Chanel no 5 to her skin. The best explanation may simply be that Nina takes a hot shower and lathers up with Camay soap to maintain her pink sheen after each day's rehearsal and before taking the subway home.

In the end, Nina dies having tasted, she says, perfection. In reality, she has been released from her suffering, her bleeding fingers and toes, once and for all.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Ubiquity of Scent, part 2

part 1

It's been over a week since I last applied perfume. How has she survived? is no
 doubt a question surfacing in some of your minds. And now, at last, for a small confession of sorts, which will come as no surprise to some of you, I am sure: many of my body products are selected specifically for their appealing scent, in addition to their functional benefits. A case in point: Clarins Huile Orchidée Bleue, which, to be perfectly frank, smells a lot better any new perfume I've tried in recent sniffing history. I have mixed this product with argan oil in a dropper bottle, and I put it on my neck and décolleté area every night before retiring.

Did I lie, when I promised not to wear perfume while caring for my mother's beloved pup? No, of course not. I have not opened the perfume sample vials I brought along. They sit inert, untouched, in my suitcase. Still, there's no unscrambling the egg, as Pentagon officials are wont to lament having funded the heinous crimes of warlords all over the planet, under the assumption that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." Well, not exactly. The principle is more like "forced to collaborate with bad or worse, I'll take bad." The fallacy in the argument, of course, is that anyone is ever forced to collaborate with anyone. But that's another completely different story, redolent of nothing but vice. Let's return to something nice.

My skincare regimen happens to afford me the felicitous opportunity to doze off in a beautiful cloud of scent but without having touched a bottle of perfume. I never agreed to forego my skincare regimen, so I did not lie. It's true that I have been noticing that little Jula seems to suffer allergy attacks especially at bedtime, and she does sleep in a bed on the floor close to mine. Causal connection or pure coincidence? I'm not sure, to be honest, because I always take her out for a bathroom session right before going to bed. She invariably breaks out sneezing the moment we step out the door, and her eyes water, too, clear evidence that this was not all just a pretext on the part of my perfume-phobic mom to prevent me from leaving traces of scent behind. Of course her reason, too, is allergies, but my impression is that she is allergic to added chemicals more than the natural stuff.

My dad, too, like Jula, suffers from severe allergies, especially during the spring, when pollen begins to float about the air. I don't recall my mom ever having suffered in the way that my dad always does from hayfever, but I'll take her word for it! There are a few nagging pieces of evidence in the house, however, which make me wonder how much of her aversion to perfume is a matter of taste and how much a matter of physical discomfort. Perhaps it does not matter, since it is her house, so she's allowed to forbid anything she wants within this space, up to and including smoking.

Which brings me to my stepdad's inveterate pipe-smoking habit. A while back, when I reviewed Tom Ford Tobacco Vanille, my stepdad was brought to the forefront of the perfume blog reading public (perhaps even immortalized!) as I insisted that he smells exactly the same as the drydown of that perfume. Not his tobacco, but him, as he is literally saturated with the scent. Probably the only time he does not smell like pipe tobacco is right after a shower at the gym--before he makes his way outside to light up a pipe once again.

It's a very pleasant smell to me, and I learned before their departure--to my amusement and satisfaction--that in fact he smokes a vanilla-scented tobacco! I actually love the way it smells and told my mom as much. She exhorted me not to share the news with my stepdad, because it would only reinforce and validate his habit! (Of course, I could not resist.)

Well, at this point in history, as "he" approaches "his" eightieth birthday--I suppose that I could name names, but shouldn't I leave something for the biographers to do?????--I don't think that there's going to be any turning back. And, why, after all? This is a guy who for decades has carried three freshly stoked pipes with him wherever he goes--in addition to a sleeve of loose tobacco. So, yes, I'd say that the word incorrigible applies, unless of course one happens to enjoy the scent, as anyone who appreciates Tom Ford's Tobacco Vanille surely would.

Smoking is strictly verboten (auf Deutsch, bitte!) inside the house. However, this humble abode is far from scent free. The hand soap in the upstairs bathroom appears to be one of those triclosan-infused foam generating Soft Soap dispensers. The label has been removed--which is fine with me as the only thing I hate more than plastic containers are plastic containers with their store labels still affixed. I mean, why? Why do I need to know that the Rubbermaid tote in which a serial killer stows the body parts of his victims was made by Rubbermaid? I see this on garbage barrels all over the place. A smooth, monochromatic surface spoiled by an unsightly peel-off label, which no one ever bothered to peel off. When possible, I take the liberty of doing so myself, but touching everyone's trash can is even less appealing than being subject to these omnipresent eyesores. But I digress...

So the Soft Soap--or reasonable facsimile. It is apricot-orange colored and smells very aquatic and calonic. A big "yuck" for me. Not to mention my suspicions about triclosan, which seems to be found in everything these days: hand soap, dish detergent, toothpaste... what????? I was using the orange Soft Soap stuff for the first few days here, as there is no other hand soap in the sink area. Fortunately, at one point I was sufficiently caffeinated to think out of the bottle, so to speak, when I opened the cabinet below, where I espied with relief a bottle of Johnson's Baby Shampoo.

Thankfully, it smells a lot better than triclosan-soaked, artificially orange-colored foam goo, so now I am using that instead. Something about the scent of Johnson's Baby Shampoo is so soothing, perhaps it is tapping into some of my earliest infant memories. Who really knows? What matters now, is that the scent is pleasant enough that I no longer cringe at the prospect of washing my hands. Chez moi, back in Boston, the ready-at-hand bathroom sink soaps are Puig Agua Lavanda and L'Occitane Verveine-scented shea.

Surprise, surprise...

(to be continued)

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Ubiquity of Scent

Difficult to believe though it may be, I now find myself in the position of not being able to wear any perfume--for two entire weeks! I am caring for my mother's beloved shih-tzu while she is away on a cruise with her husband (my step-dad). This seemed like a good thing for me to do. The pup has Cushing's disease and is twelve years old, and my mom was seriously concerned that she might come home to a dead dog if she put her up in a kennel or in a ward at the local veterinary hospital. So here I am.

Deciding which perfumes to wear was a difficult task, as many other perfumistas have reported about similar scenarios in the past. It was a bit less difficult, I suppose, because the bulk of my excessive bottle collection is now hidden snuggly away in a storage space. I have been perfuming myself with a fraction of my collection selected primarily for hot-weather readiness--and of course general wonderfulness. It's actually a good exercise to find out which of one's bottles are really worth holding onto and which could be given away without undue strife. As I made my way through my storage space deciding on my summertime perfume wardrobe, I found myself drawn compulsively to Hermès. Basically every Hermès I saw I wanted to add to the pile to take back to my house. Ditto for the Prada, though that was in part because I own full-on jugs of both Infusion d'Iris and Infusion d'Homme, which are perfect for summertime with their clean yet sophisticated personalities. Same for the other Prada Infusions, all of which I own. (Yeah, I know.)

Over the course of the summer I have nearly drained my bottle of Creed Fleurs de Bulgarie, but I have a back up in storage, so no worries! I have also made inroads into my third bottle of La Perla La Perla (the old bottle with the ugly black plastic cap, not the new one, the contents of which I do not like). Rather than Hermès, the houses I've reached for most often over the past couple of months have been Miller Harris and InekePoet's Jasmine appears now to be my favorite "wear to the library" perfume, despite its formidable sillage. I also continue to spritz my way through Le Labo Poudre d'Orient (now on bottle #2). Guerlain Chamade (also bottle #2) and Houbigant Quelques Fleurs L'originale (a twentieth-century vintage) have been worn quite a lot as well.

You might be wondering: Are those really hot-weather scents? They are chez moi, at least this summer, and especially after a bath and before bedtime, because I now own an air conditioner and use it to create a cool-weather climate to escape to when the space downstairs starts to feel like a steam bath. Thanks to my air conditioner, I have even managed to drink a lot of hot tea this summer!

So the trip. What to bring? I debated a few options, including to tote along only two or three bottles which might be drainable during the trip, after which I could toss the empty vessels. Of course, not all bottles are toss-worthy, but that seemed like a good idea since I am trying to tame my tendency toward "collecting"--what is now officially known as "hoarding". Apparently the latest (twenty-first-century) conventional wisdom is that we are now supposed to read all of our books and magazines on Kindle and watch movies streamed live. Anyone who persists in maintaining big collections of either books or DVDs must be pathological!!!!! Ditto for perfume, well, except that it is a pathology afflicting only about .00001% of the population. You know you have a problem when you expel a sigh of relief upon sighting a collection at Parfumo or Fragrantica even larger than your own--especially if it's double or triple the size! (Thank you, Action.)

That logic does not really work, of course. The fact that a person owns 1,000 perfumes does not make it any less excessive for me to own 400. I think that I may have more than that, but the stuff that I really need to get rid of--because I never, ever wear it--I no longer list anywhere.

I could not settle on two or three bottles, nor did it seem like the best solution to my predicament, given that I have hundreds if not thousands of sample vials and decants, and I know for a fact that evaporation is a much worse problem for those than for bottles. In the end, I gathered up a bunch of Histoires des Parfums and Tauer Perfumes samples, and packed them in my bag. Happily I flew on Jet Blue which still permits passengers to bring a bag large enough for a two-week trip without paying a fee! There are lots of other reasons to love Jet Blue (not a shill, just a fan!): above all, the spacious seats and friendly staff. They even provide snacks and never bitch or moan or snarl if you ask for something to drink or a second bag of chips!

Upon my arrival at my parents' humble abode in Boulder, Colorado, I learned that, in addition to her many other health issues, Jula is allergic to perfume! My mom has been seriously worried that Jula might die over the summer, and the last thing I want on my hands is a dead dog, so I promised her that I would not wear any perfume. And I have not.

Except that I have! During this "no perfume" period, I have begun to pay a lot of attention to stuff around me that is really very strongly perfumed. Take the Dial soap I bought upon my arrival. I meant to buy white Dial, which is my favorite body soap. I did buy white Dial Soap. Unfortunately, I did not read the fine print. The white Dial I bought is not the white Dial I like. It has a "Spring Water" scent which smells an awful lot like an aquatic cologne. It's really very strongly scented, to the point of evoking memories of Acqua di Gio and sundry other aquatics which make me feel a bit queasy if not downright seasick. I bought a package of  8 bars, having just run out chez moi, and knowing that I would have to buy some anyway upon my return to Boston. I debated taking the 7 unopened bars back to the store to exchange, but I'm not sure that they would. Plus it was on sale, so it did not cost that much to begin with. I probably should have just bought another package of the regular white Dial, but I have been experimenting on myself to see whether my attitude toward this particular scent will change with repeated usage. Will I become less or more intolerant of this scent, which seems clearly to boast calone? One thing is clear: I seem to be spending a lot more time rinsing than I ever did before...

Then there is the hand soap in my mom's upstairs bathroom. It, too, smells like some sort of aquatic cologne! Is this a conspiracy being perpetrated by Procter & Gamble? I ask most sincerely. The laundry detergent is "Free", that is, devoid of any added scent. Trouble is, the scent of unscented laundry detergent is not the scent of water. It's more like a kind of plastic, it seems to me.

There are lots of other scents here, too. Need I even mention that dogs smell like ... dogs? My mom took Jula to the groomer the day before my arrival. So for one day she smelled like freshly shampooed hair. According to my mom, the groomers use the only shampoo which Jula can tolerate, and it is very lightly scented, but not completely unscented, at least according to my nose. It does not smell like Bedhead shampoo, for example, which in my experience contains a full 100ml bottle of perfume in each large bottle of shampoo or conditioner. That stuff is seriously strong and will and does conflict with some perfumes, so it's important to plan ahead before using such hair products.

Which reminds me of a funny new trend. Hair perfume. That's right. Companies both mainstream and niche are now offering perfume for hair! This strikes me as funny, as so many hair products with functional benefits are already extremely heavily scented with full-on perfume. One glaring example comes to mind: Oscar Blandi leave-in conditioner smells EXACTLY like a jasmine soliflore. In fact, it is a jasmine soliflore, as far as I can tell. Why Jasmine Absolute is explicitly listed among the ingredients! (Apparently the Oscar Blandi company is not privy to the latest "scientific findings" of the IFRA...) But it also conditions the hair. I'm not sure about the hair perfumes being sold by Frédéric Malle, et al. Are they also hair products? I'll have to look more closely into that, but now that I'm on a rambling roll, there's no stopping for a Google fact-finding mission.

So dogs. Yes, dogs will be dogs, and dogs will smell like dogs. To dog owners, who are nearly by definition dog lovers--except for the small contingent of Hitler wannabes who upbraid their dogs for such crimes as, well, being dogs--the scent of dogs is probably a welcome one. To me, I have to admit: it is not. I do not like the smell of dogs. It's a natural scent which may overlap with dirty musk to some extent, so I'm not being a dog bigot here. It's a matter of scent preference, and I am on record as not liking dirty musk perfumes. So I'm not really picking on dogs. I just don't happen to like that particular scent. A chacun son goût...

(part 2)

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Of Transgender Hitmen and Celebrity Scents

Random reflections on Hit & Miss (2012)

directed by Hettie McDonald and Sheree Folkson

One way of figuring out what we really care about is to consider how much time we spend on it. If you spend a lot of time on Facebook, for example, it’s pretty clear that you are drawn to the land of the likey. That may sound tautological, but many people who complain about the time wasted on Facebook do not stop to reflect upon the fact that they themselves freely choose to spend their time in that way. They might be writing poetry or running up a mountain or composing music or watching movies or reviewing perfumes. Instead, they choose to survey the terrain of their timeline to view the selfies and status updates on that day—or in the previous hour. I should clarify that I am not judging anyone on this matter but merely agreeing with Aristotle’s observation more than two thousand years ago that

You are what you eat.”

That was a somewhat colloquial translation of the idea more obviously attributable to Aristotle that

Habits build character.”

It occurred to me that one way to gauge the importance of perfume in contemporary society would be to consider how much time people actually spend on perfume. Sure, they spend a slice of their nonessential wallet share on perfume, but in what sense does perfume constitute a part of their Weltanschauung?

I’ve been noticing of late that most contemporary films—many of which aspire to realism—make no mention of perfume, and those which do tend to use it as a part of the scenery. In House of Cards, season 1, a bottle of Tocca perfume is clearly visible on the vanity table of Claire, the main female protagonist (played by Robyn Wright). Given the blue label on the unmistakable (because it’s both attractive and unique) bottle, I believe that the perfume may be Bianca.

But no one talks about or even mentions Claire’s perfume. (I’ll report back if that happens in season 2!) Perhaps that’s because it’s just another accessory, something which she dons as a way of being hip with the upper-middle-class lifestyle in Washington, DC. Ladies wear perfume, don’t they?

This general cultural assumption, that “ladies wear perfume,” is briefly displayed in the six-part series Hit & Miss (2012), directed by Hettie McDonald and Sheree Folkson. Before proceeding, let me make clear that I am not commending this series to your viewing attention. Below is my review from IMDB:

Mia, played by Chloë Sevigny, in Hit & Miss (2012)

White Trash Reality TV meets Pedro Almodóvar

11 August 2014
Having invested six hours of my life in this thing—for lack of a better word—I feel compelled to pen a review. There is no question that Hit & Miss is watchable—I watched the whole thing, all six episodes, in spite of the fact that much of what I saw was less than appealing. I viewed two installments of Hit & Miss each of three nights in a row, finding myself unable to resist. Perhaps the best comparison to make would be to a road kill. I simply could not stop watching this production, no matter how unsavory it became. But the question remains: is that a good or a bad thing?

The story features a trans gender hit woman, actually a hit man in the process of becoming a woman. She's about half way there, popping hormones and dressing the part, though one glaring anatomical piece remains dangling between her legs. The female hormones have done nothing to mitigate her icy ability to dispatch anyone at any time for a wad of cash. In fact, it is her hits which are permitting Mia (played by Chloë Sevigny) to undertake the expensive sex change, which, it is implied, she would have been unable to afford otherwise. Mia, formerly known as "Ryan", grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, so to speak. We learn among other things that her father was an abusive thug, her family having been firmly anchored in white trash culture. The setting, by the way, is the United Kingdom, so apparently white trash is not a purely American phenomenon.

Suggestions of biological determination abound in this series, which brings us to the radical moral ambiguity of the production, made quite explicit by Mia's discovery that she is the father of a child now parent-less, as his mother has succumbed to cancer. Feeling a responsibility to care for the son whom she sired, Mia moves in with the motley family of bastard children mothered by Mia's former lover—back when Mia was still a he.

The entire series revolves around the role of Mia as she attempts to care for the family of stray kids while simultaneously continuing on as the trusty contract killer of a criminal boss of sorts—he actually seems more akin to an agent, but rather than real estate or manuscripts, he "closes" hits for prospective buyers. Mia's boss regularly calls her to meetings in the upholstered vinyl booth of a seedy café where he pays for previous jobs and hands over a folder of data about the next victim from what appears to be an endless list of persons to be executed for whatever reason was deemed adequate by the person who fronted the cash.

On the one hand, the viewer is pulled to sympathize with Mia as a trans gender protagonist attempting to realize her dream of being a woman—having been, as they say, trapped in a man's body for most of her life. She seems genuinely to care about the children whom she has taken under her wing. On the other hand, the viewer can only be repulsed by the clinical, mechanical conduct of the hit woman, who does not bat an eye at the idea of killing anyone for any reason, provided only that the price is right. For each hit, she dons an eerie "Grim Reaper" black hooded sweatshirt, pants, and boots, which imparts a ritualistic feeling to her fulfillment of the contracts. She works out and trains for the challenges of her profession in a huge empty warehouse, which might be construed as a metaphor for the vacuity of a hit man's soul. The cold, solitary nature of contract killing is more effectively conveyed in classic films such as Le Samouraï (1967), directed by Jean-Pierre Melville and starring Alain Delon; and The American Soldier (1970), directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder and starring Karl Scheydt.

The bizarre, nearly schizoid, character of Mia may be intended to illustrate the general philosophical thesis that people are not black or white but only shades of moral gray. Mia is clearly a repository of moral sentiment and tries to be a good "dad" (more like a mother, given her current appearance), while at the same time supporting the family with funds procured from terminating with extreme prejudice other "dads", and thereby rendering their children fatherless.

Does any of this make any sense? Not really. It's not a "banality of killing" case à la Adolf Eichmann, because Mia is not an administrator who "facilitates" the slaughter of human beings by other human beings. Instead, Mia directly and physically causes the deaths of her victims. In some ways, Hit & Miss reminds me of the Pedro Almodóvar film in which the viewer is tricked into sympathizing with a character who has sex with a comatose woman. Despite the fine cinematography of this production, it's all vaguely repugnant, in the end.

As we have come to expect, the coverage of perfume in this film--as in most--is minimal. In fact, out of 270 vice-filled minutes, a measly twenty-second sequence is focused on perfume, and nowhere else does it appear again.

The scene opens with Mia walking into the bedroom of the sixteen-year-old girl Riley, one of the children of Mia's former lover Wendy.

Mia is basically snooping around out of curiosity about "girl stuff". She walks into the bedroom, peeks in the closet, sees a perfume bottle reflected in the mirror and is naturally drawn to it.

She walks across the room, picks up the bottle, removes the cap, gives the nozzle a big sniff, and then places the bottle back on the table.

She next notices a cosmetics bag of greater interest across the way.

Inside the bag, Mia finds a tampon, which she takes out and rolls in her hand, apparently relishing the idea of being woman enough to be able to use such a thing.

The scene ends with Riley walking in, catching Mia in the act of essentially fondling a tampon, and railing at her for invading her privacy, but more than anything else calling her out for being a "Weirdo!"

The telltale spherical shape and tiny rhinestone studs belong to one and only one fragrance line: that of Britney Spears. By process of elimination, the red bottle in question can only be Hidden Fantasy.

By sheer coincidence, the penultimate New York Times Perfume News article happens to raise the question of the economic value of celebrity scents, yes, such as those of Britney Spears. It appears that the Elizabeth Arden company is floundering. Who is to blame? Certainly not the creative director who signs off on vat-produced chemical soup sold in garish bottles. No, it appears to be the celebrity fragrance sector itself, we learn in the following rather amusing article (by Rachel Abrams) published on August 19, 2014:

Continue reading the main storyShare This Pag
So much for the sweet smell of success.
Elizabeth Arden, the beauty company, blamed its celebrity fragrance lines featuring Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift, among others, for a steep drop in sales in the fiscal fourth quarter.
Its earnings report delivered a bleak picture — recording Arden’s worst quarterly decline in a decade — for a company that has tried to appeal to a younger clientele by teaming up with pop stars and by retooling some of its signature Red Door salons. Along with “Someday,” a soft, musky scent in Mr. Bieber’s line, Elizabeth Arden also has fragrances from the rapper Nicki Minaj and the former teenage idol Britney Spears.
Net sales fell close to 30 percent to $191 million for the three months that ended June 30. For the year, net sales fell to $1.1 billion, from $1.3 billion in 2013.
The immediate future does not look too bright, either. In its earnings release, the company warned that the first quarter of its 2015 fiscal year “will continue to be challenged by the same factors that affected recent quarters.”


Taylor Swift is among the celebrities who have a fragrance line.CreditEvan Agostini/Associated Press

Elizabeth Arden relies more heavily on sales of its fragrances than rivals like Estée Lauder, and it has a large presence in mass-market stores like Walmart. Fragrances make up 75 percent of the company’s sales, while its own brand of cosmetics accounts for 25 percent.
And unlike the high-end fragrances at department stores, celebrity lines stock the shelves at retailers like Walmart and Kohl’s, whose budget-conscious customers have not recovered from the recession.
“The celebrity fragrance market is still a good market,” said Jason Gere, a consumer product analyst at KeyBanc Capital Markets “Right now, it seems to be buckling a little bit with the weaker consumer out there.”
The earnings report on Tuesday sent the company’s stock plummeting more than 23 percent.
Companies like Elizabeth Arden have had some success capitalizing on their celebrity partnerships. At its height, Ms. Spears’s perfume generated more than $100 million in sales a year, Mr. Gere said. And celebrities, as well as their handlers, continue to seek partnerships with the fragrance business to help build a star’s brand.
Elizabeth Arden still carries a line of fragrance featuring the actress Elizabeth Taylor, who introduced a fragrance more than 20 years ago, when such celebrity branding was far less common.


Elizabeth Arden markets a fragrance from Justin Beiber called Someday.CreditJamie McCarthy/Getty Images

Since then, the world of celebrity perfumes has become more democratized as many companies have tried to target a younger audience. Perfumes bear the names of actresses like Sarah Jessica Parker, Jennifer Aniston and Halle Berry, along with socialites who include Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton.
Elizabeth Arden’s cosmetics mainly appeal to middle-age and older women, who are familiar with its red-and-white logo. For the fragrance lines aimed at younger consumers, however, many of the bottles use designs that prominently feature celebrity names rather than the company logo.
The company’s other celebrity fragrances include lines from Mariah Carey and Usher. And all its perfumes may still have an audience, even if that audience is unwilling, or unable, to buy them right now.
“There’s this attraction to wearing the same things that movie stars wear or singers,” Mr. Gere said. “There’s just this natural aspiration to be like somebody else.”
The company also announced on Tuesday that the private equity firm Rhône Capital had agreed to buy $50 million of preferred stock and warrants to purchase 7.6 percent of the company.
In its earnings release, E. Scott Beattie, Elizabeth Arden’s chief executive, said:
“I am very excited to have Rhône Capital as an equity partner, to support the turnaround of our business in the short term and the continued global growth and development of our brands and organization in the future. I am confident that we have a compelling business plan to improve the company’s performance.”

Why is this article so amusing? (I mean, aside from the non sequiturs such as that celebrities actually wear celebrity scents...) The company's explanation is risible because the whole reason for the celebrity-scent industry is economic. The purpose of having Britney Spears' name on a bunch of mediocre fragrances sold in volume to hoards of women who cannot afford higher-end perfumes is none other than to increase the parent company's bottom line. Is it not? Yet the Elizabeth Arden management team blames the celebrity sector for their poorest quarter showing in a decade.

The real culprit, they then rush to clarify, is the economy. Well, the economy plus the concept of marginal utility. Stated simply: to poor people, a $15 bottle of fragrance costs a lot more than does an expensive bottle to a rich person. Poor people are now so poor that they cannot afford to have more than one bottle even of cheap juice in their boudoir. Riley's choice was Britney Spear's Hidden Fantasy. Whatever other small change she is able to scrape together has been used to put food on the table.

Nice try, Elizabeth Arden, but the extreme poverty of such consumers does not explain why no one else is buying the fragrances either. Yes, by sheer serendipity we have learned through Hit & Miss the true reason for the faltering of the Elizabeth Arden company, thanks to Mia's twenty-second encounter with Riley's bottle of Hidden Fantasy. Having once removed the stopper from the bottle, Mia--who is flush with cash thanks to the many corpses left in her wake--sniffs the nozzle but does not opt to spray. Instead, she replaces the cap, sets the bottle back on the table, turns around and walks away.

I have not tried Hidden Fantasy, which has apparently been discontinued already, after having been launched only in 2008, but I have tried the Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift fragrances pictured above, and I must say that I wholeheartedly agree with Mia, at least on this point.

Call it a hunch, but I somehow doubt that this is helping either:

Monday, August 25, 2014

This is a test of sherapop's salon de parfum broadcast system...

This is a test of sherapop's salon de parfum broadcast system. This is only a test.

My fragrant friends--and flagrant fiends--it has been brought to my attention that my post alerts are not being transmitted by Feedburner and have not been emailed for a very, very long time. Apologies to all of you who wondered what happened. I did not notice because, well, as I'm sure you're aware, sherapop is something of a snob and does not really agonize over blog stats and what not because she only wants you to visit if you want to, and most people are not very big on phenomenology and the like.

It appears that my posts are TOO LONG for Feedburner, which prefers soundbites similar in size to the "news items" featured on mainstream media sites. Obviously, I'm not about to shorten my posts, so I'm going to try another tack: posting a short "notice" of a sherapop posting. Let's see how this works. As annoying as it may be, this method is infinitely less annoying than condensing, reducing, and changing my posts to fit some unknown administrator's arbitrary idea of how long a blog post should be.

This is a test of sherapop's salon de parfum broadcast system. This is only a test.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Problem of Other Minds and Vintage Perfume

Reflections on Artificial Intelligence (2001) 
directed by Steven Spielberg

When I was growing up, my father, a civil engineer by training and profession for nearly four decades, was fond of quipping now and then, "You could be replaced by a machine." Who knew that Dadoo was a prophet? Today, with technological gadgets rapidly proliferating, it may not sound that profound to opine that everything a person does could be done at least as well—and probably better—by a machine. My father, however, began using computers back when they were the size of buildings. Programs back then were written on huge stacks of punch cards. Suffice it to say that the state of technology was fairly rudimentary, relative to where we are today. 

Thanks in large part to DARPA and the DoD—and, above all, the federal taxpaying citizens of the United States—we've reached the point where people's jobs are constantly in the process of being rendered irrelevant by technology. Yes, it's true: "You could be replaced by a machine." Having witnessed this happen over and over again, in many different realms, one might reasonably begin to wonder: 
Is there anything that a person does which a computer cannot also do? Has the U.S. president perhaps been microchipped to spout out Pentagon-speak whenever troubles arise on the horizon? Could that humming bird whirring outside your window be a microdrone collecting information about you for the NSA? Are you even so sure that your best friend is not really a robot? How could you ever know with certainty that you are not the only conscious mind in existence, which generates in the manner of a dream all of the phenomena you take yourself to see?

Believe it or not, philosophers have been debating "the problem of other minds" for a very long time. You may not know anyone who spends time and expends mental energy on this issue, but that is because those who do tend to be segregated away in closed spaces where outsiders are strictly forbidden entry except under close supervision. No, I am not talking about insane asylums, but modern academic philosophy departments. Of course, people in insane asylums may also be discussing such questions, but they are not earning salaries for doing so.

I am of the considered opinion that philosophical thought is no more and no less than intelligent thought. There are two activities of philosophy: posing questions about inconsistencies in theories (aka: criticism), and devising hypotheses to explain things (aka: theorizing). But any theory is subject to criticism, and any phenomenon is open to explanation. Therefore, any person who engages in these activities is a philosopher, whether or not he or she would label him- or herself in that way.

Being a philosopher is not, however, the same as being an academic or professional philosopher. To be one of those, you must agree to spend your time on questions deemed worthy of discussion by whoever the current holders of endowed chairs happen to be. If you are not particularly interested in such things as tropes, possible worlds, the problem of other minds, the so-called problem of reference, or the metaphysical substratum of the universe, then you might be rejected by the club officers as not "intelligent" enough to be inducted into their group. 

In truth, it's a clever confidence scheme. The differences in opinion about which specific matters warrant sustained investigation and debate are fundamentally a matter of values. Or, if you like, they are matters of taste. Your not being particularly interested in what academic philosophers happen to be discussing today has nothing whatsoever to do with your level of intelligence. It has to do with your interests, formed over the course of your life through a contingent historical process, in a very specific cultural context. 

During the twentieth century, academic philosophy became more and more narrow, focusing on more and more obscure questions because people who disagreed with the men (and they were nearly all men) in philosophy departments about what was interesting were at a decided disadvantage. This problem was exacerbated by the modern tenure system, ironically established in order to protect political and intellectual freedom, but having instead a squelching effect. 

Dissenters were automatically spurned by "the experts" for refusing to spend the best years of their life writing footnotes to already-tenured professors' academic screed. Those who did not agree could not break into the club, because “the experts” deciding what was worth discussing—again, in disciplines such as philosophy, this is a question purely of values and taste—simply turned them away, by hook or by crook. As a result of this severe homogenization process, professional philosophers today occupy a very insular space which many students quite naturally avoid because they find it irrelevant to their experience—and interests. 

Some of the intelligent people who left academic philosophy gravitated toward film. Errol Morris (the director of the Academy Award-winning documentary The Fog of War) is one example. But the best filmmakers have always been philosophers: posing critical questions about received views, and offering their own novel pictures of reality. When I learned that Steven Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick had collaborated for twelve years on Artificial Intelligence, my interest was naturally piqued. Unfortunately, owing to circumstances perhaps beyond either director's control, the film was highly disappointing to me. Rather than risk being accused of self-plagiarization, I'll share here my short review from IMDB:

Do Spielberg and Kubrick mix?
17 July 2014
Artificial Intelligence ends up being less than the sum of its parts. I am a big fan of many of the works of Spielberg and Kubrick. Both have created resplendent masterpieces. This collaboration, however, is something of a mess. It's not abysmal, but it strikes me as akin to the filmic equivalent of a garbage pizza. Lots of good ingredients thrown together pell-mell to produce something rather unappetizing.

The idea for a good film—or five—is here somewhere, but it's so tangled up with so many other ideas none of which is ever resolved in any satisfactory way, that it's hard to see what exactly the take-away was supposed to be. Monica loves David because David loves Monica but not enough to persuade her husband to keep him around. From there everything devolves into a "please every crowd member with something or other" adventure-action flick.

The film starts down one path for a while, but when it becomes clear that there isn't enough interesting material there, then it lurches in another direction before abandoning that path as well. Maybe this is a case of production fund surfeit? Not sure.

I had no idea what this film was going to be about. I am not sure what I was doing in 2001, but I never read or heard anything about Artificial Intelligence. I picked up the DVD at the library under the assumption that it would offer some sort of eye-opening perspective on technology. It tries to, but falls flat because of the incoherent schmaltziness. It just doesn't work.

It seemed initially that this was going to be a deep philosophical reflection on love and perhaps even a critique of selfishness and possessiveness. The idea of wanting a robot to love one's self unconditionally and unilaterally--is that really so different from getting a dog? I have to wonder. It's not really like Pascal's Wager, which exhorts would-be believers to go through the motions of religious faith, and one day they will find that they truly believe. That probably works because on some subconscious level the mind recognizes that if the person is doing all of this stuff for God, then if God doesn't exist, that can only mean that the person is flaming mad, complete with visions, voices and ubiquitous spies. But that's another story.

The combination of Color Purple-style emotional string pulling and A Clockwork Orange's brazen amoralism doesn't work in this production. It's like oil and water. The movie is also too long, and the utterly gratuitous Jude Law character, to be perfectly frank, just seems like an effort to compensate for some of the vacuity of the main storyline. He plays the role of a gigolo robot—in effect, a man-shaped, walking and talking dildo. I'm not making this up.

I do not recommend Artificial Intelligence. It's not the worst movie I've seen, but it's nowhere near any of the masterpieces created by Spielberg or Kubrick individually. Some of the scenes are well composed, but taken together as a work? This is truly a mess. Sometimes less is more.

The first several minutes of Artificial Intelligence seemed very promising. The problem of other minds loomed ahead, with a female "mecha" (from mechanized) being displayed for his colleagues by the professorial William Hurt character:

In fact, both this mecha and William Hurt disappear from the rest of the film after what ended up being a few cameo shots. 

Artificial Intelligence might have investigated the nature of self-deception, given the opening problematic, but it did not—perhaps under executive producer veto (who really knows?). Instead, the main plotline is best viewed as a high-tech variant on the familiar “boy meets girl” theme.

The Opening Story

Monica and Sam Swinton are a couple plagued by the near loss of their son Martin—he’s not dead, but he lies inert in a coma. The boy is being preserved in a potentially living state by a fancy looking contraption. He is being essentially stored, seemingly asleep, at some sort of medical science center. The distraught mother pays regular visits to her son, reading him stories in the ardent hope that somehow he will be jolted back into consciousness by the warm caresses of her voice.

The prospects for the boy are dim, the doctor informs Mr. Swinton, but offers the concerned husband a way to save his wife, who is being slowly whittled away by worrying. At the same time Monica’s life is being consumed by the unrealistic and likely to be unrealized hope that her son will rejoin his mother and father in what was their happy home. 

It turns out that great strides have been made in robotics by this point in future history, making it possible for barren women and men to raise their own children without having to compete in the adoption market. Actually, it appears that in the world of this science fiction there is no human adoption market, because breeding has been curtailed—along the lines of the Chinese system limiting reproduction to one child per couple.

This couple has a son, but he is a son only in name and memory. The doctor proposes therefore that Monica and Sam adopt a robot son, a recently perfected prototype, a “mecha” who acts, looks, reacts, and indeed seems identical to a real boy. Monica’s husband agrees to give the idea a try, reasoning along something like these lines: 

What have we got to lose? Worst case scenario, it won’t work. It’s only an experiment with a machine. There is no risk involved.

Initially Monica is appalled by the proposal and deeply offended that her husband could even entertain the possibility that a robot might be able to fill the void left by her unconscious son. 


Soon thereafter seduced by the sheer cuteness of the Haley Joel Osment character, the empty-nest-syndrome sufferer agrees to a trial period, allowing this new mecha boy, David, to live at the house just as her biological son had before. 

After a time, the couple and their mecha begin to bond, and it becomes clear that he is significantly enhancing the quality of their family life.

Mrs. Swinton decides to go ahead and execute the imprinting protocol, after which David will be connected to her eternally—in the manner of a biological son, only better, since he will never, ever stop loving her and his loyalty and devotion will persist through any and all challenges and obstacles. 

The "mecha-mom"-to-be follows the detailed instructions for the sacred “love-instilling” imprinting ritual, which involves holding the back of David’s neck while he looks at her and she reads an apparently nonsensical string of words to him.

In an amusing variation on the paradox of happiness (that the more one consciously seeks happiness, the more elusive it becomes), once Monica and Sam have begun to settle in with their adopted "son" and new happy family life, Martin, the couple’s biological son, miraculously awakens from his coma! Perhaps it is a primeval territorial response, the biological son having perceived on some subliminal level the threat to his status represented by the effective invasion by an outsider of what is by birthright Martin’s home. Who really knows? 

What matters for the plot is that now, of course, a problematic arises: competition between the real son and the mecha son. The jealous biological son begins a concerted campaign to implicate his mecha brother as a miscreant and wholly unfit to remain in the family—indeed, a threat to its very existence.

Predictably, like a once-beloved pet abandoned upon a young couple’s first pregnancy for fear that it might eat their offspring, David is thrown out of the house. Monica cannot, however, bring herself to comply with the original terms of the contract. If the arrangement did not work out, the couple was to return the robot to the factory for destruction, since once imprinted no robot can be reassigned to any other human being. Monica drives her mecha son close to the factory but then releases him rather than leaving him at the unwanted robot depot to be destroyed and recycled. David is now free, but he must live without Monica, whom he however refers to as Mommy and loves (apparently—he is a robot, after all!) unconditionally.

Fortunately, for our exalted purposes here at the salon de parfum, there is no need to rehash the absurd plot of what this movie eventually becomes. Artificial Intelligence is replete with intertextual film references, by the way: to Kubrick’s oeuvre, to Spielberg’s oeuvre, and of course to the omni-film referent: The Wizard of Oz. Perhaps that is why the work garnered some critical praise (who really knows?). But all of the bells and whistles add up to no more and no less than cacophony, in this not-so-humble viewer's estimation.

Despite the promise of its name to offer philosophical insight on the problem of other minds, Artificial Intelligence ends up, remarkably enough, weighing in on only one philosophical issue: the question of vintage perfume. For those who watched this movie but missed this short but profound philosophical excursus, or who later became discombobulated by the plot-overload and general turgidity of the rest of the production, sherapop has arrived on the scene to salvage the relevant scene.


Steven Spielberg on Vintage Perfume—sort of

The perfume sequence of events begins with Monica standing before a large mirror in a formal gown. She is dabbing perfume on in preparation for a big night on the town. Her husband approaches from behind to embrace his wife as he sniffs the air and gushes, 

“I love it when you wear this stuff.”

Revealing the precious rarity of the elixir which she has just applied to her décolleté, Monica replies: 

“Will you still love me when it’s all gone?”

Her husband assuages any fears in Monica’s mind that he may love her only for her perfume: 

“Yeah… That way we can get married again and begin with a fragrance
that’s not in such short supply.”

The perfume in question? Chanel Coco.

Obviously by this time, in a distant sci-fi future, the perfume is no longer being produced—not even in an abstract, shadowy and shallow reformulation altogether devoid of natural essences. Monica has somehow scored a bottle of bona fide vintage Coco, and she and her husband have been cherishing every drop since the day of their betrothal. We have no idea, of course, whether Monica’s vintage bottle was produced pre-Y2K or post-Y2K or even post-Y3K.

In all likelihood, Monica’s bottle is “vintage” because—and only because—production of the perfume was halted during her lifetime. Any bottle older than that would have evaporated from the face of the earth over the course of a century or more—even if stored at the Osmothèque and opened only on occasion for specially selected sniffers so that they could write irrelevant appendices to mediocre books.

Can we say anything at all about the perfume which Monica is wearing? Not much. Only that company executives at Chanel christened the liquid as still being Coco. It may contain none of the ingredients of the originally launched perfume. It contains whatever the final creative director decided to sign off on—the final formulation of Coco accepted as adequate by whoever was making production decisions immediately prior to the perfume’s discontinuation.

For all we know, the bottle may contain a liquid empirically indistinguishable from Grès Cabotine. Or, for that matter, Britney Spears Believe. Simply calling the liquid inside the bottle Chanel Coco was enough to sell the remaining bottles at no doubt elevated prices, to be cherished ‘til death or drainage did they part, by whoever the lucky winners of the final ebay auctions happened to be. (For those interested in more on “the question of ebay,” I refer you to the blog of my comrade-in-nose, Bryan Ross, who recently opined at From Pyrgos on these matters as they relate to a different fragrance, one made for men.)

On its face, the above-cited little exchange may suggest that both Monica and Sam regard perfume only functionally. Monica jests that her husband only loves her for her perfume—in the way that women sometimes worry that their husband only loves them for their body. And the Jude Law character of this very film suggests that some women may love their husbands only for their body parts as well. Monica’s husband assuages her facetious fears by making clear that his attachment to this particular scent is purely nostalgic. He loves this perfume, Chanel Coco, in particular, because Monica wore it for their wedding. Had she worn another perfume, he implies, he would love that perfume instead.

Of course, we cannot test this hypothesis. Suppose, for example, that Monica had chosen to don for her wedding Grès Cabotine, from a bulbous Grès Cabotine bottle with a bright green molded-plastic flower cap. Now there’s a liquid which should be running freely from fragrance taps until the end of time. Given its hypothesized ready availability in the world of this film—not all fragrance has been abolished by the perfume police and their henchmen at the IFRA—what if Monica not only got married in but also showered herself daily in Cabotine?

Perhaps with a large volume of her signature scent ready at hand, Monica would become a ten-spray spritzer, having developed an olfactory tolerance approaching anosmia to her own fragrance. Would her husband then love her more, or would the scent become banal, rather like the automatic air fresheners dispensed from boxes on the wall in public restrooms? Worse, perhaps an overload of Cabotine could spell disaster for their marriage, serving as the prelude not to cuddling and lovemaking but to divorce.

Is Monica’s attachment to Coco only as a tool of seduction, to keep her husband near and dear? Fortunately, her mecha son David arrives on the scene to resolve for the viewer all of these vexing questions in one fell swoop: the first of a fated series of debacles which eventually lead to the would-be son’s expulsion from the family. It may not be obvious, at first glance, that perfume was implicated in David’s fall from grace to pariah status, but on reflection this seems clear.

The couple is preparing to leave the house for their party when Monica sniffs the air, suddenly worried that she may have overapplied her perfume. Will she be clearing the room? seems to be her concern. Glancing up the stairwell, she sees her mecha son standing with a Cheshire grin on his face.

Mecha-mom Monica dashes up to her boudoir where she finds to her dismay that her worst perfume nightmare has come true: David has drained the precious bottle of Chanel Coco! Some of the liquid is on his body and clothes, and a few drops were spilled on the vanity. Now they lie there next to the empty crystalline vessel, like the victims of a multi-vehicle accident on a highspeed freeway, beyond the possibility of resuscitation. Dabbing her fingers in the remaining drops, Monica attempts to contain her emotions, but she is devastated.

A very well-programmed mecha indeed, David attempts to kiss and make up with his “Mommy”, distracting her attention from the loss of her cherished perfume with the topic of mortality. He endearingly tells Monica that he hopes that she will never die. The robot’s ruse works. For now, the two are reconciled, as the woman appears to have forgotten momentarily that her mecha son is no more and no less than a robot, programmed to express emotions as though he really felt them. 

Monica has been thoroughly seduced. She cannot distinguish David’s behavior from that of a real, biological boy. She has in effect achieved the dream of the robot’s designers: to enter the realm of willful self-deception. Monica now experiences reciprocal emotions toward this boy in response to a clever, mechanical feint.

We know from this exchange that Monica has been thoroughly duped to the point of delusion vis-à-vis the status of her mecha son. Is she also in a state of delusion about perfume? The extreme emotions which she experiences upon the discovery of the “demise” of her cherished Coco suggest that Monica is indeed a member of the class of “vintage lovers”, who will travel to the end of the earth to “score” a vintage bottle. The problem now, of course, is that there is no more Coco around. Perhaps if Monica were to sell some of her stainless steel appliances or mortgage her gorgeous multi-level home complete with hardwood floors (no doubt also a rarity in the world of this sci-fi film), she might be able to procure another bottle of Chanel Coco.

Instead, she may have to adopt a new perfume, one which has been vetted by the IFRA and is in abundant supply. Or perhaps she will forego perfume altogether, having lost the love of her fragrant life. In this way, the empty bottle of Coco is an apt metaphor for her relationship with the mecha boy David, who is doomed (if it makes sense to apply such a term to a thing devoid of true feelings) to exile. Because of her real son, Monica must learn to live without David. Because of David, she must learn to live without Coco. But she cannot let go completely. She cannot destroy David, because to do so would be the equivalent of pouring her cherished perfume down the sink.

The arbitrariness of the source of her emotions is beside the point. In preparing for her wedding day, Monica might have scored, after all, a bottle of vintage Jean Patou Joy instead. Indeed, she might have scored a bottle of vintage Britney Spears Believe, which will likely be discontinued some time after the passing of the pop star, if not earlier. Would Monica not have loved any surrogate perfume just as dearly as she did her bottle of Coco for the simple reason that she chose it first? Would Monica not have loved any surrogate robot son as much as she came eventually to love David, though it would have been run by the very same program? 

Are our tastes in perfume anything more than a product of cultural happenstance? Can we not reprogram ourselves to prefer vat-produced chemical soup and thereby avoid the emotional upheaval caused by the discontinuation of what we in our benighted state take to be the mangling reformulation of our favorite perfumes?

I open the floor now to you, my fragrant friends, and anxiously await 
your response to these modest perfume provocations!