Perfume Essay

This essay will compare and contrast the various methods used by the author and director of the novel Perfume. Perfume, written by Patrick Suskind and adapted by Tom Tykwer, is a dramatic, crime thriller about the life of a murderer. Born and raised in Paris, Jean-Baptiste survives the most gruelling childhood; his father unknown and mother executed for attempting to kill him, rejected by the wet nurses in the village and when finally taken in by Madame Gaillard at the orphanage, the children endeavour to kill him.

They fear he is dangerous because of his lack of personal scent.

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However Grenouille survives through even their best efforts, survives the measles, dysentery, chicken pox and cholera. It is clear that this child is special not only because of his amazing ability to endure the most appalling conditions but also because of his exceptionally talented sense of smell. The title “Perfume” gives the reader/viewer a good idea of what to expect from the very beginning.

Trying to translate Grenouille’s olfactory language into visual picture was from the beginning a mammoth task than is expertly accomplished by the director through the use of audio and several visual components.

It is however much easier to do in a book because the reader can be manipulated through their personal experience with smell. Therefore from this point the book is mildly better even though it is at a disadvantage because the reader has no visual aid. The main themes of Perfume are black humour, emotionally/mentally challenged people, hatred of humanity and seeing importance in others life only when they affect your own. These themes are portrayed well throughout both the book and film. The most prominent is seeing importance in others life only when they affect your own.

For example, Madame Gaillard dies in a tragic way shortly after she sells Grenouille. In the book she dies of cancer in a crowded bed, in the film she is slit at the throat as she returns home. Monsieur Grimal falls into the river on his way home from celebrating the sale of Grenouille. Giuseppe Baldini’s house falls into the river not long after Grenouille leaves for Grasse. All these deaths symbolise that Grenouille can only value human life if it has something to reward him with; when this is done they no longer exist in his mind.

This also explains why Grenouille can kill the innocent girls, take what he wants and leave without feeling any remorse for his actions. One of the best adapted scenes is the opening chapter, Grenouille’s birth. Suskind does an extended description of the putrid place where Grenouille was born. “The streets stank of manure, the courtyards of urine, the stairwells stank of mouldering wood and rat droppings, the kitchens of spoiled cabbage and mutton fat”, this quote goes on for a considerable amount of time yet it is necessary because there is so many rotten smells included that everyone can relate to at least one.

This provokes the reader to think of the most revolting smells they have ever experienced and then try to imagine them worse. In the film, Tykwer uses a fast moving, rolling shot to show the reader the various scents that inhabit the area. And he uses shots of typically revolting objects such as rats, fish guts, sick and rotting vegetables. These smells are relatable to humans and so the viewer can appreciate how bad it smells, however this may not be as powerful as the smell that the human imagination can fabricate from the book.

Also he employs the sound of a heartbeat and rapid breathing of the new-born babe to humanise the situation and to portray the struggle the baby has to survive. The heartbeat makes us anxious and so we wonder whether the baby will survive. The baby breathing rapidly makes us question if it can continue. However regardless of this the baby lets out a scream. The audio effects stop and this could symbolise that as soon as the baby chose to live it ended the life of his mother and shows that the world is not the same.

Obviously some scenes from the book have had to be cut to stay within a reasonable screen time, one of the scenes cut is the scientific study that is carried out on Grenouille nevertheless this is not missed and the film makes up for such scenes in other aspects. One of the biggest advantages the film has over the book is that it can use the best actors suited to the role. The actor that plays Grenouille, Ben Whishaw is perfectly suited to the character.

He has a childlike voice that represents his innocence, not that his soul is innocent but because he has been void of all love for his whole life. His life was only valued by those wanted something from him. His character is also very good because his expression can be changed in an instant. In one scene he can appear helpless and angelic while in another he can be closer to the devil than a human. The way he sets himself into the role is nothing less than perfect; he scuttles as he should, hunches as he should and does everything as weirdly as is should be.

Grenouille is a disturbing character and this is very well portrayed by the actor. In the book Grenouille doesn’t say much because the book is written in third person. This is used so that the reader can get close into the minds of all the characters instead of being limited to one. This also means that we can observe events happening in all the different places. In the film this is done through the use of a narrator. However the narrator does tend to disclose information that as viewers might have preferred to interpret ourselves.

So even though the narrator is used in both the book and film the effects are far better in the book. To conclude, there are many similarities between the book and film adaption of Perfume that are equally as good as each other but some aspects such as the narrator are stronger in the book. Equally particular aspects of the film are better, for instance the ability to use actors. One of the primary differences is the character change of Grenouille from book to film. The book shows him as a conniving parasite that is very good at manipulating people.

The film shows a man who is unaware of the effects of his actions and is somewhat innocent. The strongest parts of the book are the descriptions of the in-depth break down of the various scents and how deep into Grenouille’s mind the reader gets, since spoken language is not Grenouilles strength. The best bits of the film are casting decisions and the superb adaption that captures the soul of the book and enhances it through captivating music and images. It’s like smelling with your eyes.

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