Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (The talent and horror that leave no trail…) (香水)

…his gifts and his sole ambition were restricted to a domain that leaves no traces in history: to the fleeting realm of scent…

Patrick Suskind’s Perfume: The Story of a Murderer tells a story about a genius murderer whose goal was to collect the ultimate fragrance from beautiful women. The protagonist, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille was born without scent of his own, yet possessed the impeccable sense of smell. The world for him was made up of various scents, and he could recognize the slightest difference of scent between each object and life beings. After he apprenticed himself to Baldini, a perfumer, for proper art of mixing and extracting perfume oil, he set his quest to search for the most angelic fragrance and started his darkest and most chilling journey.

The movie was decently done and also the major reason to lead me to Grasse in my trip to France last year. The movie unfolded the story with hypnotically calm ambience although Grenouille’s deeds were terrifying. Most of the movie was displayed in a tranquil voice as not to wake up a fragile dream, and Grenouille’s monstrous desire almost seemed "innocent."

Baldini is once a famous perfumer in Paris but now lacks creativity.

He found out about Grenouille’s talent and started teaching him the art of perfumary.

One of the basic skills to extract perfume oil is distilling fragrance from flowers.

Ben Whishaw played the role of Grenouille. He interpreted Grenouille as a persistent young man with delicate frame and timid personality that disguised him from a cruel murderer. However, he was, indeed, harmless toward people except his targeted prays—beautiful women whose scents would be added to Grenouille’s collection.

Ben Whishaw is Grenouille in the movie…

… And he prays on women for making his "divine" scent.

The movie followed loyally enough to the book, except that the book detailed more about Grenouille’s adventure to Grasse and how Grenouille successfully adopted "artificial scents" to gain other people’s recognize. Grenouille isolated himself in the mountain for several years on the way to Grasse. It was also where he became the powerful ruler of his kingdom—he felt the most confident with everything when it became molecules of scents to which his talent allowed him to interact and acquire full command. Since Grenouille had no body odor, he mixed and matched scents from different resources to give himself some "identities," so people would notice his existence while he passed or stood by them.

What I’ve found the most fascinating about this story is that it’s full of conflicts. Jean-Baptiste Grenouille was born in the filthiest slum yet had no scent of his own. Although he had no body odor, he was obsessed with scents and gifted with the incomparable ability to analyze and differentiate enormous numbers of scents in the world. He’s fragile, quiet, and timid in a way that he’s basically "ignorable," but he’s never compromised by disease and intimidation from others. Instead, his consistent goal for which he committed a series of horrifying crimes was merely to acquire something others regarded as trivial matter—a scent that he considered perfect. It was, nonetheless, the scent that bestowed him his identity, and fulfilled his desire to be "visible" and "recognizable."

Laura is Grenouille’s subject of desire to make his ultimate perfume.

As I contemplated the story after reading it, I surprisingly found myself considering "maybe" Grenouille was not the most evil subject in the story. Other characters in the story all had "human weaknesses"—Madam Gaillard was in charge of the boarding school in which Grenouille stayed. She was certainly not into charity activity and later sold Grenouille to a tanner named Grimal. Grimal treated Grenouille like a slave and had him work under dreadful conditions that killed most workers in few years. Later on, Baldini discovered Grenouille’s talent and paid Grimal to release him. Baldini was a talentless perfumer but too stubborn to admit it. Although he taught Grenouille fundamental skills of perfumery, he depended Grenouille’s potential to become rich and enjoyed the feat as it were his own achievement. After Grenouille traveled to Grasse, he became the subject to Taillade-Espinasse’s phony experiment of his ridiculous "fluid theory." Compared to these people, Grenouille’s crimes were like an animal’s instinct to hunt and feed for the most monotonic desire.

"His gifts and his sole ambition were restricted to a domain that leaves no traces in history: to the fleeting realm of scent" is the most mesmerizing phrase in the book. It does not only open up the main theme from the very beginning, this theme of "fleeting realm of scent" sophisticatedly ran through the whole story and even hinted the final fate of Grenouille. Even though Grenouille’s fate was horrific, Patrick Suskind wrote it as if it were a gentle exit from the stage—disappeared tenderly like the trail of fragrance.

Categorized as Book, Movie