Written by: David Mackenzie
Directed by: Kim Fupz Aakeson
Setting: Glasgow, Scotland
As an epidemiologist, Susan — who’s been battling depression in the wake of a failed relationship — is one of the first to witness a disturbing phenomenon.
A man has been brought into the hospital with unprecedented symptoms. Out of the blue, he was seized with debilitating depression. His sense of hopelessness soon passed, leaving him with no sense of smell.
This illness quickly reaches epidemic proportions baffling experts, including Susan (Eva Green) and Stephen (Stephen Dillane). The next stage of the disease is coming; victims will be struck by another overwhelming emotion followed by the loss of another sense.
Meanwhile Susan has sparked a new romance with Michael (Ewan McGregor), a chef at a well-appointed restaurant. This is a difficult profession at a time when people are losing their senses of smell and taste. Contemplating his empty restaurant, Michael’s boss (Denis Lawson) laments that fat and flour is all people will eat. After all, it is sufficient to keep them alive and smells and tastes no different from anything else.
Much of the film focuses on humans striving for “more than fat and flour,” not just compensating for their lost senses but finding ways to recreate the joys those senses once provided. It reminded me a bit of Station Eleven — “survival is insufficient.”
At times, as the epidemic progresses, society falls into chaos. It’s always fascinating to see how people react when the rules and norms of society crumble. As one might expect, some people become looters, grasping whatever they can. And others work together, adapting to their new circumstances. The heart of the film, however, is the budding relationship between Susan and Michael.
Despite the unusual premise of the movie, it is — in some ways — a predictable romance. When it comes to women, Michael is a cad. Susan has built up stiff defenses. These two flawed people, self-professed “arseholes” — with their damaged ability to trust — tentatively come together. It’s a story we’ve seen before. However it worked because of the terrific performances. I loved their playful sensuality and moments of radiant unfettered joy.
This is a unique film, with strong performances, and an interesting exploration of the importance of human connections. Despite a voiced-over narration that is, at times, heavy handed, I found the story absorbing. It’s a low-key, sometimes moving study of humans’ ability to adapt in intimate relationships, in communities, and in times of cataclysmic crisis.