Monday, May 7, 2012

Do Perfume and Serial Killers Mix?

Reflections on Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006),
directed by Tom Tykwer

The first time I watched Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, I very much disliked it, so much so that I gave my copy of the DVD away to an unsuspecting recipient, who however appears to have loved the film, as have many members of fragrance communities, at least judging by their comments on threads and blogposts treating this topic.

I recognized that the cinematography was exquisite and the musical scoring excellent, but I could not surmount my gut revulsion to the basic construct of the film. Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, the central protagonist, is a serial killer, and this film attempts to offer a measuredly sympathetic perspective on what he does. Both nature and nurture are wheeled in to explain Grenouille's aberrant behavior.

The Tale

Born in the midst of a filthy fish market in a squalid quarter of Paris, Grenouille soon finds himself an orphan, as his mother is hung for the attempted murder of her child. She has birthed Jean-Baptiste, like her previous four children, under the table where she sells fish. Jean-Baptiste, unlike his ill-fated siblings, who were apparently all miscarriages or stillborns, manages to survive rather than being swept out and discarded along with slimy fish guts at the end of the day.

The infant's cry alerts people in the marketplace to his location, and his mother tries to flee but is apprehended and executed for her crime. So here we have both nature and nurture intertwined. Deprived of maternal love, the child will later come to demonstrate the truth of this pithy maxim of biological determinism: “like mother like son”.

From there, little Jean-Baptiste is conveyed to an orphanage and later to a tannery where he works essentially as a slave. At some point, the boy discovers his superlative olfactory ability and his entire world becomes structured by scent.

When he learns of perfumery and makes the chance acquaintance of Giuseppe Baldini (played in the film by Dustin Hoffman), the young man (now played by Ben Whishaw) proves his olfactory artistic worth and is taken in as an apprentice to help the elderly perfumer to revive his flagging business.

During these, his discovery years, Grenouille “accidentally” kills a a young woman with red hair whom he has been stalking because of her delightful scent, which induces in him, by all appearances, a sensation akin to ecstasy. To prevent the maiden from screaming when a couple walks by the place where Grenouille has been sniffing her (of which she has only just taken note), he covers her mouth. Women are to be smelled, not heard. Alas, by the time the couple has left, the girl is dead, evidently of suffocation.

This event marks Grenouille for life, constituting the point of no return for the young murderer in the making. His entire existence now becomes directed toward the end of “capturing scent,” as he puts it. Specifically, he appears intent upon capturing the scent of the red-haired girl whom he inadvertently killed, what he clearly appears to regret.

Grenouille begs his boss Baldini to share the secrets of capturing scent, which he does, beginning with distillation. Unfortunately, this method proves inadequate to the young man's progressively more obsessive needs. In his experiments, Grenouille discovers that the scent of horseshoes, copper, glass, and cats cannot be captured through distillation.

Ironically enraged, Grenouille confronts Baldini, accusing him of being a liar for having told him that all scents could be captured by this method. Baldini, entirely incognizant that this is a foreboding sign of things to come, pulls his dead white cat (gasp!) from the distillation chamber and admonishes Grenouille, not for his evil doing, but for his confusion in supposing that the scent of a living being might be distilled into an essence.


At Grenouille's insistence that he be instructed in other methods for capturing scent, Baldini sends his apprentice to Grasse to learn the skill of enfleurage. Unfortunately, for this historic perfume-making community, Grenouille embarks upon a murderous rampage, killing young woman after young woman, beginning with his first victim, whose essence he attempts to distill.

The other young women's bodies are slathered with animal fat and wrapped in cheesecloth, after which the great perfumer Grenouille scrapes off the fat to use in securing the victims' essences, each of which is poured into a tiny bottle.

A prostitute, whom Grenouille initially attempts to enfleurage while still alive, unfortunately puts up resistance to the idea and is thus met with a blunt blow to the back of her head. Women are to be smelled, not heard.

This series of murders is, apparently, all a part of Grenouille's heartfelt artistic quest to capture and create the perfect scent. What “the nose” needs are twelve different essences: four for the top notes; four for the heart; and four for the base. Baldini has instructed him that the greatest perfumes have also a thirteenth, mystery essence. So this theory of perfume-making, which Grenouille obviously accepts, is the explanation for why he has set out to kill and extract the scent of thirteen young female victims.

About half way through this film, it becomes quite clear that Grenouille matches the classic serial killer profile. Such killers often begin at an early age by torturing and experimenting with animals. Grenouille, for his part, attempts to “distill” the essence of a white cat, killing it in the process. Many serial killers have been said to lack meaningful relationships both with their family and with other people. Grenouille, an orphan with no friends or family, fits this description as well.

Being unlucky in love and sexually frustrated, in addition to having low self-esteem and a deep-seated need to prove to themselves their power in the face of what is manifestly their impotence—all traits also illustrated by Grenouille—lead such killers eventually to commit their heinous deeds.

Serial killers typically become obsessed (and this is precisely why they kill serially...) with very particular traits which they seek out in their prospective victims. In Grenouille's case, the victims have to be young and preferably virgins with red hair, though he does settle for some brunettes and one prostitute. However, the final essence, he determines, must be that of a red head, and he expends great effort in stalking and killing a beautiful young red-headed woman whom he has become completely obsessed with. Later when interrogated under torture by the woman's father, Grenouille explains his murder thus: “I needed her.”

Given this altogether classic portrait of a serial killer, up to this point, one might consider Perfume: The Story of a Murderer to be not so different from other films treating the grisly phenomenon of serial killing, perhaps the most horrific of which, at least in my experience, is Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1990), directed by John McNaughton and based on a true story. But wait, there's more.

After evidence of his crimes is uncovered (dug up) back in Grasse, Grenouille is hunted down and apprehended, then thrown into a dungeon where he awaits execution for his ghastly and serial crimes. An angry throng of the peasants of Grasse, all of whom appear to be beset with bad teeth, fills the town square, where they call out for the killer's painful death at the hands of the local bourreau, who looks rather like a professional wrestler-cum-motorcycle gang member, and may actually be the brother of the man who ran the tannery where Grenouille was enslaved as a boy.

Unbeknownst to any of these unsavory characters, the “great perfumer” Grenouille has a secret weapon, the perfect scent, which he just managed to compose immediately prior to his arrest, thanks to his successful killing and enfleurage of Laura, his final victim.

He takes out his small bottle of this magical elixir and disarms the guards who have come to his cell to drag him out to the public square for execution. The guards drop their ugly demeanors, and their anger melts into kindness as they become putty in Grenouille's hands, going even so far as to dress him up from head to toe in blue velvet togs befitting of his role as the ruler of the universe, or so it seems they have become convinced.

After being conducted by chariot to the public square, Grenouille whips out and waves a handkerchief spotted with a dot of his perfume (which he has also applied to both sides of his neck) as he stands at the scaffold which might have been the site of his death. At first a hush falls over the crowd, and then after a short while, when Grenouille releases the handkerchief to float over the air above them, the crowd lapses into a paroxysm of erotic ecstasy, ripping off their own and others' clothing after which they all participate in a gigantic group orgy in a scene reminiscent of Hieronymous Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights.

The most obvious interpretation of the orgy and the power over the people which Grenouille is able to wield is that this sick serial killer has by now completely lost his mind and is suffering a massive hallucination consistent with the delusions of grandeur characteristic of killers of this type. But wait, there's more.

At this point, the film really takes a turn for the worse, and it is entirely unclear to me what coherent interpretation might be offered for what next transpires. (I am hoping that commenters on this post will be able to help out here!) Having disarmed the guards and led the angry crowd into a massive love fest, after which they all fall asleep—not unlike Dorothy in the field of poppies in the Wizard of Oz (directed by Victor Fleming in 1939)—Grenouille is now free to return to the womb, so to speak.

In a flashback of sorts, occasioned by his sighting of a basket of what appear to be bright yellow persimmons, which induces a flood of memories of his first victim and an erotic fantasy involving her, Grenouille reveals his recognition that there is something wrong. He seems to grasp, at last, that his effort to capture the scent of this woman has led him astray. His eyes well up with tears as he appears to recognize what he has done.

He journeys back to Paris and, specifically, the fish market where he was born. There, too, is gathered a group of peasants with bad teeth, hovered about a fire to keep warm on this cold night. Grenouille pours the entire remaining volume of his perfume over his head and the local peasants clamor about and close in on him. They then proceed to pile on top of "the great Grenouille", in effect, consuming him, which, the narrator helpfully explains, is what they believe to have been the only act of pure love in which they have ever engaged.



So what's wrong with this film? And why do I appear to be the only perfumista on this planet to have found it problematic? (By the way, everything I say here relates only to the film. I'll review the book later, but prefer to take films on as self-sufficient works, independent of their literary precedents.)

Where to begin? How about with the radical objectification of women? Some men like breasts, others legs, others booty. Grenouille has a penchant for scent. The value of a woman inheres solely in her identity as a repository of olfactory delight. Are women not rational and sentient beings, too? Irrelevant. Their deaths are a small price to pay in the quest for the perfect perfume.

A version of this question was raised recently by Girasole in her comment on The Question of L'Osmothèque

      I also find that there's a de-humanizing aspect to the perfume is art dogma. If perfume were art then the wearer would be a piece of art. I see something similar going on in the fashion world. Women starving themselves just to wear a dress. It's all upside down. It's the commodity (the dress in my example) that should serve the customer. But to the contrary, it's the other way round. I (the customer) serve the commodity to the point of denying my body. The designers must feel extremely flattered. There is nothing that the fashion piece of art is not willing to do to themselves (or others. As in the case of those two sisters from Latin America who died of starvation literally on the runway in front of the audience. That is the moment when I think that I'm living in a Pasolini movie.)
        ---Girasole, May 2, 2012

Far from believing that scent should be captured for all time, a view apparently shared by those who conceived of the Osmothèque and Jean-Baptiste Grenouille alike, Girasole believes the opposite, and her view has, I think, much merit. But for now let us return to the film and reflect a bit upon its reception by perfume lovers.

Thierry Mugler produced a special, expensive, limited-edition coffret to commemorate Perfume: The Story of Murderer. That's right, to symbolize the “beautiful” idea from the film of extracting the essences of thirteen murder victims and using them to produce the perfect scent! The Mugler coffret contains fifteen essences, said to represent the fifteen chapters of the book, although it was launched to coincide with the film's release.

This seems to me akin to wearing Charles Manson t-shirts or collecting memorabilia from the likes of Jeffrey Dahmer, et al. There are of course people who do these things, having become strangely enamored of such heinous criminals. My question is: Why would anyone want to celebrate the deeds of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, who is manifestly a serial killer? Is he more of a perfumer than a serial killer? No, he is first a serial killer, and then a perfumer. Why, after all, did he leave Laura's body, her head shorn, on her bed for her father to find?

I do not know whether there have been any copy-cat killers in response to this film, but I do know that copy-cat killing did occur after Stanley Kubrick's 1971 film A Clockwork Orange. What does seem clear to me is that watching the proliferating aestheticized images of the murdered virgins is bound to be a source of titillation to real serial killers existing in the world. These people do exist, whether one wishes to believe it or not.

Nonetheless, in all of the threads about this film which I've seen at fragrance community websites, people have waxed romantically about the nobility of art and how great artists are willing to sacrifice any- and everything in their quest for beauty. Clearly, Grenouille is laboring under the handicap of a coddled cortex. Is he a great artist, even in the fictional world of this film?

Why did he not remember that distillation does not work for living beings, as he himself demonstrated when he boiled a cat, and a point which was specifically spelled out for him by his mentor, Baldini? If Grenouille was such a genius, why did he not whip out his magic potion upon his initial apprehension, rather than wait until the day of his scheduled execution? If Grenouille was so convinced of the sanctity of the life of his first victim and so crushed by the fact that he had killed her, thus destroying her scent forever, why, then, did he set out to kill thirteen more young women, also with scents which would be removed from the world, immediately decreasing its aesthetic value, upon their deaths?

Finally, and this bears directly upon The Question of L'Osmothèque: why would a vial of the perfect perfume (assuming that it was such) have any value for anyone unable to sniff it and, specifically, the perfumer himself after his own death? Could he not have experienced the scent of thirteen more living young maidens for all of his life, had he not taken theirs?

Capturing the scent “forever”—which is necessarily relative to the perceiver's own life—comes to an end with death, which implies that, to him, the experiencer, the scent can never survive him. Even if others will be able to perceive the perfume for another year, decade, or century, it will eventually evaporate away. Does this film not then definitively demonstrate the folly of attempting to “capture scent” forever, which is, in principle, impossible?

Now, I am quite confident that some will reply (if not here, at least in their minds...) that the film does not glorify serial killers, as Grenouille ends up dead, and the perfume, the product of his labors, too, ceases to exist. The problem I have with the ending of the film is that the perfume is said by the narrator (a person not identical with Grenouille) to have these magical properties upon the people who come in contact with it. In other words, the value of the perfume itself is affirmed, in spite of the fact that it was produced through the serial murder of innocent young women.

Does not the affirmation of the value of an end entail an acceptance of the necessary means to that end? If not, why not?


  1. Dearest Sherapop, why did I enjoy both the book and movie? Because I experienced them more as a character study and less as judgements of what is right and wrong. Anybody "with a heart" knows Grenouille is about as sick and psychotic as a human can be, but I felt like the enjoyment that could be had from the two works was in how much they could make me feel--in both initial pity and later amazement then disgust with Jean-Baptiste and curiousity about the ending and the symbolism of it. It makes me question my own morals and reflect upon what part of myself engages in "hedonistic cannibalism" the way the peasants in the end do when they devoured Grenouille. I remember feeling shocked at how he could come to the conclusion that a human could be enfleuraged and how grotesquely idiotic of an idea that is,setting aside for a second the great vileness that comes overrides the initial amusement I felt in scoffing at it. In other words I enjoyed it as a sort one extremely successful depiction of the lowest image of humanity and how far sensual obsession could go, how lonely and out of touch a person could be, and the great valley between the whole world of Grenouille and the rest of the world. I never enjoyed the story as a sort of moral account justifying a hero at the cost of all that is good and sensible, but as a sordid reflection of as things are against the the world of sensual enjoyment as it should be. Very romantic and naive of me I know. And irresponsible....I really appreciate and deeply undestand your piece, your arguments knowing that there are people who enjoyed it musing at Grenouille getting away with murder after murder for the most ultimate selfish self-realization while ultimately nothing can bring those virgins back to life, and that there was never a moment of reason in the whole hateful story. I enjoyed it from the viewpoint of the victim rather than the protagonist.

  2. I LOVED the movie. I read the book in highschool and loved it too. they are very diffrent but the movie had me holding my breath. the movie is glossier and more beautiful while the book is more dark and sinister. I think you will enjoy the book more. the grenouille character is portrayed more like the dispicable killer he is. And like kastehelmi said . it is not a question about right or wrong. it is a portrait
    ps....Henry did not have me holding my gave me nightmares.

  3. Jifat (parfumo)May 9, 2012 at 3:48 PM

    Dear Sherapop,
    again it is a real pleasure to read your profound reflections. At the end of your critical movie review you ask: "Does not the affirmation of the value of an end entail an acceptance of the necessary means to that end? If not, why not?"

    My answer is: No. There is an old principle: The end does not justify the means! Even the highest and most noble purpose a human being can strive for does in no way justify immoral, reprehensible ways and means someone might choose to attain this goal.

    Extreme example: It is immoral (and of course unlawful) to massively endanger or even destroy human lives in order to save another person’s life, e.g. while freeing hostages by force.

    Referring to the film this means: Though Grenouille obviously succeeded in creating the "perfect" scent, or, at least, one with magic power, his actions are and will always be deeply criminal. There can be no doubt about that.

  4. Hello, my fair friends! Unfortunately the "reply to" buttons are not working immediately beneath your posts, so I'll post all of my replies here...

  5. My dear Kastehelmi,

    It's so wonderful to read you here again, and I very much appreciate your offering some insight into why/how you could love the film which I have decried! You have pointed out that the positive reception of this film is not necessarily based on the mindless exaltation of l'art à tout prix. Your own pleasure derived from your ridicule of the protagonist whom we both agree is worthy of scorn.

    So it might seem that the reason you like the film is the same reason why people continue to rent "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer". Honestly, it's ghastly, and perhaps it has a cathartic effect upon some viewers—I don't know—what I do know is that I would never watch it again. What that film completely lacks, and is however taken to new heights in Tywker's film, is an aesthetic presentation of the killer in question and, above all, his victims.

    Maybe my problem is the conjunction of this finely aestheticized cinematography with the story of someone so very depraved and deplorable. But the film also attempts, I think, to elicit sympathy for Grenouille through showing his "good side" in all of this. Obviously, you and I are not seduced by all of those close shots of his nostrils flaring and his ecstasy in his olfactory confrontation with the world. Nor are we willing to excuse his behavior on the grounds that he was abandoned and abused as a child.

    But I think that where I really draw the line is with the highly aestheticized presentation of the victims' bodies. I did not include very many of those shots above, but they might easily have been Vogue magazine layouts (minus the clothes)--that's how aestheticized the victims' bodies are in the film. This celebrates the beauty of these dead young women in the service of the production of the powerful perfume which Grenouille manages to produce through his application of the technique of enfleurage to their corpses.

    So I think that there is much more going on here than a depiction of depravity, and I suspect that part of what you loved was this very heightened aestheticism. That is in fact the latent meaning of the title of my post: “Do Perfume and Serial Killers Mix?”

    Should something as wonderful as haute parfumerie be placed into such a sordid context of human depravity and pathology, when doing so seems to suggest their necessary connection? No real perfume in the real world has the power which Grenouille's potion does in the film, which suggests that only through "daring" to act as he did can it be produced.

    Well, those are a few of my thoughts, but I'll continue in my replies to the other comments. I'd like to thank you again, Kastehelmi, for sharing your perspective on the film! Please do follow up if you can find the time... (-;

    p.s. Off-topic: please pm me at to verify your receipt of the mystery scents! We hope to start in the forum there on this Saturday, May 12, pending everyone's receipt of the the samples. Thanks.

  6. Hello, triplex! I am delighted that you have stopped by to share your receptions to the film and book. By the way, I'm going to try to read the book this weekend—I requested it from the library in both German and French. I actually bought it some time ago, but it has been MIA in my humble abode for a couple of years, which is why I have yet to read it. With the library books on the way, this seemed like the prime time to review the film—before my understanding is tainted/enriched (as you like...) by the book.

    I suspect that you are right: I will like the book more, precisely because it is devoid of the glossy aestheticism which you note and I described in part above in my reply to Kastehelmi. I almost included some of the shots of lavender fields and piles of red rose petals and jonquils, but I did not want to go overboard on the image-to-text ratio. But you are right: the scenes from Grasse (aside from the dentally challenged peasants) are breathtakingly beautiful. So are the images of the victims.

    The protagonist is seriously creepy, I wholeheartedly agree. One of the creepiest scenes (aside from his careful slathering on and scraping off animal fat from their dead bodies) was when Grenouille confronted Baldini and called him a liar, shoving beakers under is nose and demanding that he say what he smelled. Total psycho material. No doubt about it.

    And the cat!!!!! Who knows? Perhaps what irks me the most about the film is the scene where Baldini fishes his dead white cat from the distillation chamber. Some people probably found that funny, I suppose. The Emperor and I, however, were not amused.

    Seriously, I understand your point of view. I just cannot quite see how this film can be regarded amorally when the acts it depicts are so manifestly immoral. This leads me to Jifat's comment, below...

    Thank you again, triplex, for your comment, and I hope to read you here again soon!

  7. Herzlich Willkommen, Jifat, und Vielen Dank für deinen schönen Kommentar! (übrigens: Deine Ubersetzung ist perfekt—ohne Fehler (-;)

    Thank you for reminding us of the anti-Machiavellian principle that the end does NOT justify the means. The trouble in this case, I think, is that in the world of the fictional film, the deaths of the young maidens are necessary to the production of the splendid, noble—or whatever you want to call it—perfume. So my question is not really so much does the end justify *any* means, but whether the accepted to be good end justifies the *necessary* means.

    One way to answer the question would be to deny the goodness of any end which can only be achieved through evil means. This is the position of, for example, pacifists vis-à-vis war. Since wars cannot be fought without the evil means of killing innocent human beings (whether they be what are today euphemistically labeled as “collateral damage” civilian victims, or the millions of young men throughout history who have been essentially sacrificed by their leaders in achieving their desirable political aims), this implies, according to the pacifist, that war is always wrong.

    In the case of this perfume, the fact in the film is that it can be used to induce ecstasy and profound feelings of gratitude, fulfillment, and love. Perhaps these are all illusions in the film. But if they are real, then the question becomes: is the end in itself evil? It seems that we can evaluate the end without regard to the means, since they seem to be independent. This is how I think that you are viewing the matter: the end is good, but the means are criminal. But what if the ONLY means to what you accept to be a good end are evil? That is the vexing question, it seems to me.

    In search of a solution to my puzzlement over this entire film, I did something which I usually avoid doing. I actually watched the “Making Of Perfume” documentary included as an extra on the DVD, because I was very curious about the director's own take on the film. The reason why I generally eschew such “documentaries” is because they seem more like infomercials to me. The director invariably gushes about his brilliant cast, and the actors invariably gush about their genius director, and in the end, I find it either funny or sad, depending upon the quality of the film itself being touted as a masterpiece—that's always taken to be a given.

    So, what did director Tywker have to say? To my amazement, he seems to think that this is a “very relevant” story about the dangers of seeking glory and fame. Huh. Once again, Socrates appears to be right: if you want to know the meaning of a work of art, do not ask its creator! (-;

    The problem with Tywker's interpretation—which supposes, by the way, that the effect of the perfume within the world of the film is illusory, and that Grenouille has somehow seduced people to believe that he is great—is that the only exposure the people (for example in the town square where he is scheduled to be hung) have of this young man is as the murderer of thirteen of their young women. It's certainly not the sight of the murderer which seduces, first the guards, then the peasants. So when precisely was this seduction to have taken place? I wonder.

    Anyway, Tywker produced a cinematographically beautiful film, I'll give him that. However, I continue to believe that it is perverse, for the many reasons cited above (in the original post and my other comments).

    What do you think, Jifat? Do perfume and serial killers mix? This is really the same question about means and ends under a different guise. If the only way to produce the perfect perfume is through serial killing, then can it really be the perfect perfume?

    Thank you again so much for joining in on this discussion, Jifat. I anxiously await your next remarks!

  8. Hi Sherapop, I find your critique interesting. I think that there are several threads of thought intertwined.
    a) In German there are two idiomatic expressions. Jemanden nicht riechen können which means to dislike someone; and jemanden zum Fressen gerne haben which means to like someone a lot. Both refer to the animal side of the human being. The side that is not affected by reason. In psychoanalysis there is the term "internalisation" which means that you allow something from ouside to become part of your inside world. For instance a person that you like a lot and, thus "carry in your heart". Of course, it's not the person but rather an image of the person, or in psychoanalysis an internalized object. We all do that, but on a symbolic or more abstract level. We do not literally eat up a person. Cannibalism, so some analysts will argue, is the premordial and concrete internalization of a person / an object. Remnants of this can be found in rites such as the Totenschmaus, when people gather to eat and remember the deceased after the funeral. Now, I'm a Roman Catholic and in the Roman Catholic tradition there is a thing called "transsubstantiation". It's the moment when the wine becomes the blood of Christ and the bread his body. Tut dies zu meinem Gedächtnis. Nehmet und esset alle davon. According to the Protestant tradition bread and wine are symbols at all times. (By the way: I have a hard time understanding Transubstantiation. For me the bread and wine are symbols.)
    Our personal smell is a concrete represenation of our personality. A person without a personal smell is not-existing. This is precisely what the narcissist (and all serial killers are extreme narcissists) dreads most. That people discover that he is all image but not a person like everybody else. Remember that Narcissus does not fall in love with himself. Rather he falls in love with the reflection of his image ... and drowns. Narcissits do not see others as human beings but rather as parts of themselves or as their mirrors or as their instruments to obtain something and to discard them once they don't need them anymore. Narcissits do not wish to be loved, but to be admired. Love requires too much closeness and this is something that the narcissist cannot stand. Closeness implies being seen as the little fallible erroneous insignificant beings that we (at times) all are. To the narcissist the acknowledgement of this equals being extinguished, being cancelled out. The narcissist's life moves between the extreme poles: grandeur (I'm god) and extinction. (I think that Shakespeare's "Othello" shows two narcissists: Othello and Jago, who have basically the same type of personality; only the surface is slightly different. It's Jago who says something like: I am not. Very scary thing to say.)

  9. argument from above continued:

    b) I also dismissed the movie as artsy but irrelevant. Tykwer didn't get the point. He was too obsessed with creating beautiful pictures that draw heavily from paintings. Now, the film is set in the era of the Enlightenment. We owe a great many good things to the Enlightenment, but also some risky ones. The height of the Enlightenment is usually seen in de Sade. Why this is so has been shown by I don't know how many people such as Horkheimer, Adorno, Pasolini, Barthes, Deleuze et al. just to name a few from the top of my head. But Tykwer pretends that these do not exist and makes a movie that puts difficult concepts into pleasing pictures. Grenouille is a de Sade figure. He embodies all the negative aspects of extreme individualism, rationalism, materialism, nihilism or, if you please, the negative side of the Enlightenment. Before the Enlightenment individualism did not exist as a concept. This point makes me angry about the movie: Dialectic is a difficult thing. Coming to terms with the Enlightenment is such a major thing in 20th cent. thinking. Seriously, I don't understand how Tykwer and film critics can ignore this.
    c) All art is abstraction and open to multiple interpretation. Grenouille, as much as he wants to be one, is not an artist. When a painter chooses to paint a picture of a murder he doesn't have to kill somebody. Nor is the picture the murder. It's an abstract presentation. Grenouille, on the other hand, cannot abstract. He doesn't understand the difference between the concrete and the abstract.
    d) I don't know whether I would call the movie a "A Clockwork Orange" knock-off. The sujet is quite similar. Tykwer fails to explore the radical individualism of the Enlightenment. Now Kubrick's main character is a different kind of extreme individualism: that of the genius, more Sturm und Drang. If I remember correctly there's a lot of reference to Beethoven in the movie. Of, course, Beethoven is Klassik, but Goehte,e.g. had his Sturm und Drang phase.
    have a good weekend, Girasole
    ps. Of course, there's also healthy narcissism. I'm referring to the one that cancels out the other.

  10. Hi, there's one thing I forgot. Above there is reference to Machiavelli's "Il Principe". Let's not forget that there's a big difference between Machiavelli and de Sade. Machiavelli's book is an instruction about how to run and protect a state. Pleasure and enjoyment are no categories in Machiavellian thinking, whereas they are categories in de Sade's thinking: the pleasure of the individual at the expense of the other is basically de Sade's bottomline.

  11. Hello, Girasole, welcome back and thank you for this veritable embarras de richesses of comments! I'm going to reply to your excellent points one at a time, citing your comment in my reply in order to avoid confusion (unfortunately there's something wrong with the reply button under individual comments).

  12. Let's begin with Machiavelli:

    Girasole writes:

    "Above there is reference to Machiavelli's "Il Principe". Let's not forget that there's a big difference between Machiavelli and de Sade. Machiavelli's book is an instruction about how to run and protect a state. Pleasure and enjoyment are no categories in Machiavellian thinking, whereas they are categories in de Sade's thinking: the pleasure of the individual at the expense of the other is basically de Sade's bottomline."

    I reply: yes. Machiavelli is often misrepresented as embodying shamelessness, inscrupulousness and evil, and the term 'machiavellian' has acquired a meaning which does not reflect the thought of Machiavelli himself. But anyone who has actually read Il Principe knows that he is not an immoralist.

    Machiavelli exhorts leaders to forsake morality, if (and when) necessary, in order to protect the state and above all their power. He seems to think that it would be great if one could act as a good and moral person while succeeding as a leader. He is, however, highly skeptical about this possibility, given human nature and the realities that the leader must face, above all, that other people will not conduct themselves in accordance with morality.

    This is why it becomes necessary for the leader to play by other rules, if he wishes to continue being a leader. Machiavelli does not exhort anyone to become a leader. He only says that if you want to be a leader, then this is what you must be prepared to do.

    In other words, Machiavelli is neither a moral relativist nor a de Sadean figure. Thank you for pointing this out, Girasole!

    Now, to return to the film: Let's think about the case of Grenouille for a moment. I wonder about him in this regard because he initially attempts to enfleurage the prostitute while alive. He seems to think that it would be great if he could extract her essence without killing her, but he can't, so he does.

    Does this not suggest that he is more of a Machiavellian character than a de Sadean? I wonder.

    I am ignoring, by focusing on this particular example, what is manifestly Grenouille's pleasure in doing what he does, as documented by his remark "I enjoy my work." And it is true, that the prostitute is the only example of this that I see in the film. He did not seem to blink an eye at distilling his very first victim, even after having been told by Baldini that you cannot distill the essence of a living being.

    Quite far from being an artistic genius, he seems rather dull to me. He accepts Baldini's “recipe” for a great perfume ( 4 + 4 + 4 + 1), and sets out mindlessly to collect the needed thirteen essences, just as someone might follow the instructions in a cookbook to produce a delicious cake. I also agree with you that Grenouille is basically trapped in the concrete operational stage of childhood development, incapable of abstraction.

    more to follow...

  13. Dear Sherapop,

    unfortunately the reply-function does not work, so I write a new post.

    Thank you for your answer. I’m not sure whether I quite understand, what you exactly mean.
    You ask: Do perfume and serial killers mix? I think, yes, why not, though the connection may be far-fetched. A sick brain might take his motivation to kill from the smell of a person (or, in this case, the urge to "collect" specific smells), though I have to admit that the idea seems to be absurd, but psychopaths do absurd things.

    I do have a problem with the concept of a "perfect scent". What or how should it be? I don't see Grenouille's perfume as such. He himself does, obviously, but he's kind of a lunatic.
    And even if it really was perfect (whatever that may be), the ways and means to achieve it must be in accord with the fundamental principles of morality, esp. "Thou shalt not kill!"

  14. Hello, Jifat!

    I've been thinking about your original point and my reply, and I think that you are right to be puzzled. I was assuming that the killing of the maidens was necessary to the production of the perfume which induced ecstasy, etc., in the people who came in contact with it.

    In reality, Grenouille could have produced the same perfume by first persuading the young women to agree to allow him to enfleurage them alive. From his perspective, this option was less desirable because it would have been more difficult to accomplish. He would have also had to convince them without frightening them, since according to him people "stink" when they are scared.

    Nonetheless, if he cared at all about morality, then he could have figured out a way to gather his thirteen essences without murdering anyone. True, he may have had to approach one hundred women, and it may have taken a very long time. But it was possible.

    This seems to imply that the case of Grenouille is quite different from that of war, whose means are intrinsically homicidal. So I see your point now. Yes, I do agree with you. Looking at the case in this way, it becomes even more clear that Grenouille is much more of a serial killer than he is a perfumer.

    Thank you for pressing me so helpfully on this point, Jifat!

  15. Reply to Girasole and Jifat, re: Machiavelli, cont'd.

    I've been thinking about this issue some more and to me it's not entirely clear whether Grenouille is a hedonistic killer or not. It is of course clear that morality, as we ordinarily construe of it, is not a constraining factor for him. He knows that what he does is wrong according to society, as evidenced by the fact that he lurks in the shadows. That doesn't mean that he thinks that it's wrong. No, it means that he recognizes that he risks incarceration and punishment if captured. So his lurking about like a stealth killer reveals only that he has enough practical rationality to avoid acting in ways which will immediately incur negative consequences, and specifically prevent him from doing what he wants to do anymore (above all, create perfume—or so it seems).

    The question which is not answered in the film is whether, as Girasole suggests, Grenouille is a bona fide, full-fledged de Sadean character. As I mentioned above, his attempt to enfleurage the prostitute without killing her seems to suggest that the killing is not the telos. However, he is also quite rude and dismissive of her, as though she's getting in the way of his work. Then he just kills her, so his work becomes simple to carry out because no one is objecting (talking) anymore.

    What we don't know is whether Grenouille has discovered through this act that he derives pleasure from killing itself. That question remains unanswered—at least in the film. I have begun reading the book, which begins with the bald assertion that Grenouille is an evil genius of sorts and assimilates him with a list of notorious historical figures, including Marquis de Sade. In the film, however, this is never really demonstrated. In the film, he seems more like an idiot savant with a peculiarly heightened sense of olfaction but otherwise limited powers of intellect. He even seems to be slightly retarded sometimes.

    Grenouille's compunction over the first woman he killed by accident does not suffice to show that he does not derive pleasure from the act of killing in the following cases. But I do believe that this is what happens in the case of serial killers. They discover that the killing itself affords a form of quasi-sexual satisfaction (often they are impotent). In Grenouille's case, it seems pretty obvious that he derives some form of pleasure from “his work”: slathering fat on the victims' bodies and then scraping it off, collecting it in a pot and using it to prepare their essence. The sensuality to him of this whole process is highlighted in the film, while the acts of killing are never shown, only implied, so we never see the look on Grenouille's face as he fells his victims.

    The power that the perfume has over other people suggests that it is not just some ordinary perfume and even intimates that the reason for the power is that it was produced through the sacrifice of these women's lives. Would Grenouille's perfume have had this power if he had not murdered people to create it? That was what I meant in my earlier comment and my question about the necessary means to an accepted-to-be good end. This is perhaps what I find perverse about the film, the suggestion that somehow something so profoundly moving could be produced through acts of murder, which is essentially the “aesthetic” serial killer's own perspective on his crimes.

  16. Hi Sherapop, now Machiavelli's argument is all about maintaining political power in the Renaissance. Politics are a dirty game, my prince, and I explain to you how it works so that you're well prepared. It's not about how the individual may seem larger or bigger (omniscient and omnipotent) than s/he really is at the expense of others. The individual point is missing. All princes play the same game.
    de Sade: well, I guess, Sadistic enjoyment is quite different from what we might call enjoyment or pleasure. However, when I look at the picture you posted above, when Grenouille takes out the piece of cloth, he strikes a pose of triumph, of personal triumph over the others, who are now without their own will and have to obey to him. And accordingly engage in an orgy (very de Sade). There's something manipulative and corrupting about it. He triumphes over the others. That's Sadistic enjoyment. He's free, the others are not. In this precise moment he must feel like god, omnipotent. It's all about him, the individual, because now finally he has his own smell. What a smell indeed as it has the above mentioned effect upon others. It's not about a dirty political game. I see the perfume (the scent) more as a metaphor: the narcissistic quest to be, to exist. To me there's a lot of narcissistic wishfulfillment in the movie.
    I think in his artistic dullness, we both agree.

  17. Point well taken, Girasole.

    Yes, that picture does tell a story, doesn't it? As does the one below, where Grenouille smirks in enjoyment at his power. A few minutes later, of course, he suffers something of a disintegrative breakdown. Incapable of embracing his power, he suddenly wishes to annihilate himself once and for all. I guess that's why he pours the perfume over his head—as a form of suicide?

    A propos of Machiavelli: yes, you are right that he wrote Il Principe as a guide to actual, historical princes (the Medicis). However, I do think that "the problem of dirty hands", as it continues to be called, is fully relevant to the modern world and is often adduced as an excuse for corruption.

    Usually when people renounce their moral principles, they claim that they had no choice, or they chose the lesser of two evils. So I don't think that it is a category mistake to ask whether Grenouille views his killing as a necessary albeit evil means to what he regards as a necessary end. I'm not saying that he views things in this way, and he probably does not, given his evident cognitive limitations. I'm just suggesting that such a character could, in principle.

  18. Girasole wrote:

    "In German there are two idiomatic expressions. Jemanden nicht riechen können which means to dislike someone; and jemanden zum Fressen gerne haben which means to like someone a lot. Both refer to the animal side of the human being. The side that is not affected by reason. In psychoanalysis there is the term "internalisation" which means that you allow something from ouside to become part of your inside world. For instance a person that you like a lot and, thus "carry in your heart". Of course, it's not the person but rather an image of the person, or in psychoanalysis an internalized object. We all do that, but on a symbolic or more abstract level. We do not literally eat up a person. Cannibalism, so some analysts will argue, is the premordial and concrete internalization of a person / an object. Remnants of this can be found in rites such as the Totenschmaus, when people gather to eat and remember the deceased after the funeral. Now, I'm a Roman Catholic and in the Roman Catholic tradition there is a thing called "transsubstantiation". It's the moment when the wine becomes the blood of Christ and the bread his body. Tut dies zu meinem Gedächtnis. Nehmet und esset alle davon. According to the Protestant tradition bread and wine are symbols at all times. (By the way: I have a hard time understanding Transubstantiation. For me the bread and wine are symbols.)"

    This is fascinating, Girasole (and apologies for my tardiness in replying). Are you suggesting that the final scene should be interpreted along these lines? So we should consider that Grenouille is literally cannibalized by the fish market peasants? Is it that they recognize that he is one of them? Or they want to incorporate him into them? This is the part I do not understand. What is the meaning of the cannibalization in this case? Do the peasants view Grenouille as a Christ figure for his deliverance of a sense of well-being and love? Does this make them want to "carry him" with them and thus drive them to cannibalize him?

    Any help you might be able to provide here would be most appreciated as I am completely baffled. (-; Vielen Dank!

  19. Hi Sherapop, I think being internalised (be it abstract or concrete) is being made immortal. It's a long time since I've watched the movie. So all I can offer are hunches: he manipulates the peasants into loving him (against their will through the magic instrument of the scent.)and he corrupts them, because if not enchanted they would have probably reacted differently and would have remembered him for something else. Yes, he's really everything the narcissist yearns for: omnipotent. In the way he dies I also detect the message: So, you think I'm the most terrible monster in the world for what I've done. Look at yourselves and what you have done to me: You're just as archaic as me. (And given his childhood and adolescence he's quite right) Again, the others are nothing but instruments for the narcissist that have to serve him in his wishfulfillment. Given his childhood he can only lack social skills. He doesn't know how to obtain love and being remembered because he never experienced it. So he has to trick others into loving and remembering him.
    Besides something else comes to my mind. Shakespeare's Jago is happy only once in his life: when he receives his punishment.
    But Christ-figure? Grenouille? No, never. Christ is compassion and sympathy and sacrifice; Grenouille lacks these traits. Rather he's the over-rational scientist who experiments at all costs. However, not in the abstract name of science (would have been cruel enough) but in his own name. Besides, the "enlightened" scientist abhors the church and religion.

  20. Hi, something slightly off topic crossed my memory. Have you ever thought about the fact that some professionals cannot openly admit enjoying their work because other people would stare at them in horror? I once had a very interesting conversation with a surgeon. He said that he simply couldn't talk about his work (as other professionals could) or what he enjoyed about it with "normal people". They would turn away in disgust. He found that very frustrating, by the way. (A conversation among surgeons must really be a strange thing to listen to for us not-surgeons. Especially when they stop using this super abstract Latinized language.) Moreover, he said he felt to some extent morally obliged not to enjoy an operation, because it included a good many cruel things (that are absolutely necessary for saving someone else's life).
    See, enjoyment comes in all sizes and shapes. And some surgeons have a really odd sense of humor :))

  21. Gypsy ParfumistaMay 17, 2012 at 7:30 AM

    Sorry I am late to the party, at least I made it this time! *smiles weakly*

    I must, first and foremost, thank SheraPop for gifting me an original DVD of this movie. She kindly sent it to me when I had told her I had never seen it! *Hugs our hostess*

    We have already debated (via email) the pros and cons, likes and dislikes, and so on and so forth between us; so allow me to *try* to sum up my views and feelings and reasons for liking this and then address Shera's questions...

    ANY show, movie, book, what have you that pertains to perfume has my IMMEDIATE interest. Tom Robbins' "Jitterbug Perfume" is my all time favorite book by that author and I read it before becoming a hard-core parfumista (Hmmm? Planted seeds perhaps...?) and when I watched PERFUME (movie) I was immediately engrossed.

    Cinematography was spectacular and the director did an amazing job capturing the ephemeral sense of smell via images, for sure! I am also a BIG fan of shows like "Criminal Minds" and anything that looks at the abnormal psychology of killers (serial or otherwise). THIS particular film showed his depravity (yes) and his cruelty, but also shined a light on what made him the way he was! I am NOT defending what the protagonist did (in any way whatsoever). What I am doing is saying I enjoyed the movie from the point of view it gave. Someone (obviously a very talented artist in heart and soul) who was shown only indifference and cruelty "repeated the cycle". His quest, in and of itself, was admirable. His means were dastardly and wicked. It is this blend of art (and his passion for his) and the dark atrocious way he went about it that holds your interest (or at least mine) like looking at a wreck (you don't REALLY want to, but just can't help yourself!).

    Also, remember he TRIED to pay the one prostitute to be "smothered in fat" and her essence captured...she just thought he was some kind of pervert and tried to run screaming! The initial killing was, in fact, an accident. The second one was to protect himself, not from her...but from discovery. I do not think he enjoyed killing, at least at first. And, I do believe, in his own rather twisted and odd way Grenouille was trying to "make amends" for killing the first poor waif (who was selling yellow Mirabelle plums) by immortalizing her scent!!

    I absolutely adore this movie! Not BECAUSE it is about a serial killer, but in spite of that fact. Now on to the questions posed:

  22. Gypsy ParfumistaMay 17, 2012 at 8:09 AM

    (Objectification of women) Well, the first thing that comes to mind is: consider the era! I don't like it or agree with it, but most men had "the upper hand" back then and women were little more than servants, concubines or personal property really. I think Grenouille did not necessarily see them as only that (he learned from his female teacher in Grasse and he never killed her!) but let his passions get the better of him...much like an addict who cares little for who they hurt or what they are doing to themselves.

    (Le Parfum coffret) I do not think, and still don't, that Mugler's limited edition set was meant to glorify the movie; as much as add the one thing missing from the movie and the book: THE AROMAS!! Even before I KNEW *what* the movie was, or about, I wanted that set (and still do!). I believe the scents like Orgle (orgy) were meant to add an olfactory sensation (be it "good" or "bad") to the experience. I believe though what they SHOULD have done was release book and/or movie in a more mass released LE set with small samples of each scent (in wax perhaps like Serge Lutens does) instead of making only so many (300, I believe) and charging $600.00 on its release (and it is now upwards of a GRAND for an unopened one). Such is marketing...*sighs sadly*

    (Perfumer or serial killer?) YES! *giggles* He is (or was) the best "nose" who ever lived, and before he killed ANYONE he was an apprentice perfumer. Was he not? He just became (for whatever his twisted unfathomable reasons were) a serial killer. Serial killers do exist (obviously) but anything (and I mean ANYTHING) can set them off. If someone is a killer or a sociopath...or both; they are gonna kill, or die trying. It is also true that certain images CAN excite them. Tiptoeing around what may or may not "incite" them though is an exercise in futility. I truly believe, for what that is worth, if Jean-Baptiste's subjects had been willing (like models sitting for a painter) to have their essences extracted with lard soaked linens...he would have never killed ANYONE! I also believe the reason he sheared the head of lovely Laura was that hair holds scent even better than skin...just saying! To say he became a serial killer out of necessity is rather lame (no one truly needs to kill) but I am saying, in retrospect, I can understand why he did it but not agree with it. Just like a behavioral analyst knows why Jeffrey Dahmer did what he did...

  23. Gypsy ParfumistaMay 17, 2012 at 9:06 AM

    (Great artist?) I do believe JBG was a truly talented technical perfumer (he could smell anything and immediately recreate it given the means to do so). An artist? Not so much. He created something aesthetically pleasing, and technically perfect, yes...but I believe calling him an artist is a "stretch" myself! Passionate? Yes, although it would seem "gifted" and "genius" are not always one in the same! *giggles* Baldini told JBG distillation would NOT work on living things (or copper or glass) only AFTER he had boiled the cat (in my opinion the worst and most horrible scene in the movie!). This is when he released him to go to Grasse to study enfleurage (and, I would imagine to get this "whacko" as far away from him as humanly possible!). And, I remind you, what he did with (and to) the cat was not distillation, so much as a decoction (boiling something to extract its essence). Many aromas cannot be water distilled BUT are, in fact, fat soluble. It would seem, also, despite what Baldini told him that what he did worked (and rather well) but I digress...

    (When he whipped out his "magic potion") I do believe he wanted to "test" his finished fragrance on the masses (which he knew would be assembled to see him killed). Escaping from a few soldiers is far less of a monumental affair than averting one's execution and having all of the city (including the clergy) engage in what became an orgy of epic proportions. I do think it was his twisted way of saying "See? Look what I did. Isn't this pretty?" Again, and this goes without saying, I am NOT defending him-just observing from a rather objective point of view. AND, in conclusion to the volley of questions (in this paragraph above) I do not think he was looking at what he did as an end to them, so much; as a way of helping them (and their essences) to be immortalized. Warped? Yes, but rational (at least to him, which is not saying much at this point!) LOL

    (...had he not taken theirs?) Yes, he could have, if he was near them or around them. What he was, in effect, trying to do was recreate that perfect scent he caught from the waif who was his first (accidental) victim, and the idea of preserving the "scent of a woman" and making a perfume following the old formula of twelve notes (3:3:3) and a "mystery" note was just too much for him to resist!

    (Does not the affirmation of the value of an end entail an acceptance of the necessary means to that end? If not, why not?) Not necessarily...older formulations of wonderful perfumes (LANVIN's "My Sin" for example) contain REAL civet musk; for which an animal had to die (or at least be put through agony) to extract. Now (in this more enlightened age) civet is not used, as it is cruel and inhumane. Just because it (let's call it "Aura" as TM did in his coffret) is amazing, magical, perfect and whatever...does not (to me anyway) justify the fact that it was made from the killing and enfleuraging of LIVING PEOPLE! Had I been able to smell it (if it actually existed) I may feel differently, from the reaction to the characters in the book/movie to it. However, despite whatever other scruples we have, don't have or argue over; killing is the one MORAL most of us never step over that line to commit.

  24. Gypsy ParfumistaMay 17, 2012 at 9:13 AM

    In conclusion, dear friends, I am going to say what people say to me (when correcting the mythological facts behind, say, Disney's "Hercules"): It is just a movie! Please suspend your indignation, moral outrage and disbelief and watch it!! We (as intelligent members of society) should be able to (at least for 90-120 minutes) be able to think outside our own little comfortable ethnocentric boxes and get lost in a story, however repulsive we may find its premise, and get over ourselves!

    I enjoy a good argument/debate as much as(if not more than) anyone. But, ultimately, it's just a the ones in the Bible or mythology, and don't get me started on the violence and killing in the former! ;-)

    This movie/concept/idea/novel is truly the definition of darkly beautiful to me. A very deeply troubled man attempts to create the something beautiful after knowing only pain, neglect, and squalor and he does...though his means are heinous and evil he succeeds; but only at the cost of many innocent lives and (ultimately) his own. The ending of the film may be a bit contrived, but after that ("Aura") what would one do for an encore? I shudder to think...

    Always a pleasure my fragrant fiends,
    John xox *hugs*

  25. Gypsy ParfumistaMay 17, 2012 at 9:45 AM

    CORRECTION: Part three should say "...4:4:4 and a mystery note..." DUH!! :(

    Also, the one thing (debated above) that confused me greatly in the film was the rather odd ending. I had to watch it a few times and then read the synopsis of the novel to realize that he had, in fact, been devoured...and not torn to pieces and scattered as I first assumed.

    It makes me wonder, knowing this now, is there a little bit of Grenouille in all of us? Is THAT was Suskind (original author) was trying to say? Or (by "...and they were quite sure it was an act of unconditional love..." *paraphrased, of course*) was he was, in fact, saying that the destruction of evil was an act of selfless love? Or were they all just "high" on Grenouille's creation?? Hmmm...

    Also, I had no idea that the spot where he was "devoured" was in fact the fish market where he was born. Thank you for pointing that out! Sometimes, it seems, I miss the forest for the trees :D


  26. Hello, Gypsy, and welcome back! I was beginning to worry that you may have lapsed into a vicious circle of decaffeination, unable to drag yourself into the kitchen to brew up a pot as a result of the very state of decaffeination needing so badly to be addressed!

    Fortunately, I was wrong, as your eloquent posts clearly attest!

    Unfortunately, the individual reply buttons on this post for some reason do not work, so I have to respond at the end for everything you said. What I'll do is focus on the main points...

  27. Reply to Gypsy, part 1:

    Let me begin by dispelling any misconceptions to the effect that I am a generous person. The truth is that I sent you my copy of the DVD only because I truly believed that I would never watch it again. So my "gift" was tantamount to inviting someone out to dinner when you know in advance that he cannot attend. Yes, you get credit for generosity, but it's at zero expense! (-;

    It turns out that I did end up watching the film again (I checked out a copy from the library this time...), for the purpose of writing this post, and again, on my computer, in order to capture screen shots to accompany the text. But the truth is that I honestly believed that I would never watch it again!

    So there you have it: my confession.

  28. Reply to Gypsy, part 2:

    Gypsy wrote:

    "ANY show, movie, book, what have you that pertains to perfume has my IMMEDIATE interest. Tom Robbins' "Jitterbug Perfume" is my all time favorite book by that author and I read it before becoming a hard-core parfumista (Hmmm? Planted seeds perhaps...?) and when I watched PERFUME (movie) I was immediately engrossed."

    Yes, yes, yes, yes! This is a beautiful explanation of the over-the-top reception this film received in online fragrance communities and on blogs. It seems to me that we are *desperate* for any form of affirmation that our obsession is a worthy one. The number of films in existence which make any, even vague, allusion to perfume can probably be counted on the fingers of two hands. Major neglect. No one seems to give a damn about perfume, so when Tywker decided to take perfume seriously, as a result of his reading of the book, perfumistas everywhere were thrilled.

    The excitement for the film preceded the film. There was a huge amount of PR and marketing build-up, beginning with the Thierry Mugler Le Parfum coffret itself. The vast majority of people who expressed interest in the coffret did so before watching the film, because the marketing of the coffret preceded the film's opening. Only a tiny fraction of the people who eventually saw the film ever read the book.

    So, what's the point? It's like we're in a desert, dying of thirst and hunger. We see a pitcher of artificially flavored Koolaid and a table covered with Twinkies in a mirage in the distance. We begin drooling in anticipation of consuming foods that ordinarily we find repulsive.

    Same story here: ANY FILM, as you put it, about perfume is going to be welcomed with open arms by perfumistas, even one about a depraved serial killer....

    more to follow...

  29. Reply to Gypsy, part 3:

    I am in fact a case in point, a perfect example of the perfumista in the cultural desert, craving anything bearing any reference to perfume. Did I not purchase both the DVD and the book? I simply assumed that the DVD was a film that needed to be a part of my collection (this was before I realized that hard media will have completely disappeared within ten years...). So, yes, I'm with you.

    Where we differ is on the film itself. (By the way, I was tempted to copy and paste all of our pms about the film from Fragrantica here in the comments. But you are no longer MIA... (-;)

    We certainly do not disagree about the beautiful cinematography of this film. No argument there. And I might be tempted to summarily dismiss your reply to my complaint about the objectification of women as the typical response I'd expect from a white male.

    However, you are not a typical white male and, as a result of what Anita Bryant and her ilk regard as your "deviance", you have no doubt dealt with at least something like the prejudice we, the fairer sex, have contended with since the beginning of time.

    Nonetheless, I must protest to your somewhat glib objection "It's only a film!" I wonder, for example, whether you are aware of the existence of the snuff film industry. It may be difficult to believe, but there actually is a market for films comprising scenes of the literal murder of women. Seriously.

    You might reply (and probably would, if I gave you the chance to reply before I replied on your behalf (-;), that snuff films involve real murder, while PERFUME: THE STORY OF A MURDERER is a work of fiction.

    Yet the people who watch and enjoy snuff films are enjoying the sight of the killing of women, in precisely the way they might enjoy the sight of the aesthetic depiction of Grenouille's murder victims. The phenomenological experience of watching a film in the two cases is the same, whether one imagines the reality of the death or the death is in fact real.

    Now, I happen to be one of the biggest advocates of free speech in the universe, and I also oppose censorship. What troubles me in this film, and the reason why I thought that I'd never watch it again, is the GLAMOURIZATION of the murder of young women.

    How is this really different from the pleasure which some men derive from watching snuff films? I ask most sincerely and humbly await your response, dear Gypsy!

  30. Girasole wrote:

    "I don't know whether I would call the movie a "A Clockwork Orange" knock-off. The sujet is quite similar. Tykwer fails to explore the radical individualism of the Enlightenment. Now Kubrick's main character is a different kind of extreme individualism: that of the genius, more Sturm und Drang."

    Hello, again, Girasole, I am still making my way through your comments, and I would like to take up the one above today.

    First, I just wanted to clarify that I did not mean to suggest that I thought that Perfume: The Story of a Murderer was a "knock-off" of A Clockwork Orange. I do not. For one thing, as you have observed, the criminal protagonists are very, very different.

    I would describe Jean-Baptiste Grenouille as "pre-moral", while Alex in A Clockwork Orange seems to be "post-moral". Grenouille never really had a moral upbringing. His whole life was like a struggle for survival, and he never really evolved to the point of having a moral worldview. His murders appear to be means to another end, although it's true that he might also derive pleasure from killing. That's left unclear in the film.

    Alex, in contrast, seems to embrace immorality as a form of aestheticism. So the whole point of his actions is that they are immoral. He seems to think of himself as a sort of Übermensch à la Nietzsche. He has gone "beyond good and evil," so to speak.

    I found out in a forum a while back that, interestingly enough, Stanley Kubrick was asked to direct Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, but he declined, saying that the project was "impossible". His point may have been that Grenouille is too despicable to sympathize with, but in order for a film to succeed, viewers must be able to identify on some level with the central protagonist. Well, that's my hunch, anyway! (-;

  31. So I was wandering the Earth to and fro and seemed to have stumbled upon this salon de crap....


  32. So that was you, Interlocutor Man!

    It seems that you were among the many visitors to the salon de parfum who arrive here after plugging certain search terms into Google! ;-)



  33. Not so, the only term I plugged to get here, was "sherapop"


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