Sunday, July 7, 2013

Film Club: Perfect Sense

A few days ago we watched Perfect Sense, and we're still thinking about it. While it's not a foreign-language film like Les Choristes, it certainly provokes interesting thoughts about human communication and language.

The film tells the story of Susan, an epidemiologist played by French actress Eva Green (Casino Royale) and Michael, a chef played by Scottish actor Ewan McGregor (Trainspotting, Moulin Rouge!). As the world begins to be plagued by a mysterious illness that robs everyone of their senses one at a time, the two meet and fall in love. It's not your typical pandemic thriller like Contagion, nor is it a cheesy romantic film. We honestly don't know how to do it justice in a brief description, so we highly recommend you watch it for yourself. 

You'd never have to smell Limburger cheese again, either.
While Susan and Michael's story is certainly one element of the plot, it largely centers around the idea of what humans would do without their senses. When each outbreak begins, people have a brief yet overwhelming surge of emotion, and then suddenly one of their senses is gone. We aren't spoiling anything by saying that smell is first (it's mentioned in the trailer), which perhaps would be the easiest to live without. Life can certainly go on without a sense of smell. Perhaps you wouldn't notice your toast is burning in the toaster as quickly, but that's manageable. 

However, as the cycle repeats with other senses, we're shown how the world reacts, changes, and makes up for the senses they're now missing. Obviously there's some chaos, but humans are quite adaptable. Those who are born deaf or blind are a testament to the fact that it is entirely possible to live a successful life with loss of a sense. 

Leaving plot of the film aside, it made us wonder how a communal loss of sight or hearing could affect communication in the world. If everyone in the world went deaf right now, what would happen? There would be no use for radios, music, fire alarms, or even talking. Given that a relatively small percentage of the world's population know a sign language, we imagine the first impulse would be to write everything, which would undoubtedly put more emphasis on literacy in areas where written language is seldom used. 

We'd need to keep a close eye on babies as well, since
their cries would no longer serve much purpose.
Writing everything would get to be fairly tiring and lip reading would only go so far, so presumably sign language would be the next course of action. We doubt everyone would have time to take classes, so there would be quite a bit of diversity of signs, which could lead to confusion. People would also rely more on nonverbal communication, with every expression on our faces being scrutinized for its meaning more than ever before. 

And if it was sight that we all lost? Ignoring the vast array of difficulties inherent in a world in which no one can see, spoken language would clearly be the choice for communication. Tone of voice would become far more important to interpreting meaning, while relationships would undoubtedly focus much more on physical cues as well. 

How do you think language would change if everyone lost their hearing or sight? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below. If you've seen Perfect Sense, we'd also love to hear your opinion of it, and if it was as thought-provoking for you as it was for us.