With Odorama apparently out of the question, Tom Tykwer settles on pure sensory overload as his strategy for adapting Patrick Süskind’s German bestseller, about an 18th-century perfurmer’s apprentice whose superhuman sense of smell drives him to kill women for their scents. Especially early on, as Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (waifish, feral-childlike Ben Whishaw) comes to his heightened senses in maggot-infested Dickensian squalor and haute Paris, this director-as-saucier dumps out his entire spice rack. This means full-to-overflowing montages, cluttered frames, and popping colors — notably two flaming redheads. First a fruit basket-bearing market girl who Grenouille, driven to devour her aroma, accidentally kills in the film’s primal scene; then a provincial aristocrat’s daughter, amid the prismatic flower fields where he starts collecting in earnest. (Her father is Alan Rickman, assuming the foil role filled in the first half by Dustin Hoffman’s squirrely master perfumer).
If Perfume’s half-baked central metaphor holds up Grenouille as the obsessed artist, willing to destroy others and isolate himself for his work’s sake, then call the Tykwerian extravagance a testament of faith, all the way to his orgasmic demonstration of Art’s transcendental power. And beyond: on the heels of that climax comes another, an even more brazen, bacchanalian messiah moment. It’s all too much, but nothing less would do.