Perfume – The Story of a Murderer

Set in 18th Century Paris, Perfume- The Story of a Murderer is an adaptation of the 1985 novel Das Parfum by Patrick Süskind. Directed by Tom Tykwer, the 2006 German thriller stars Ben Wishaw as Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, a boy born with the gift of extraordinary sense of smell.


Born on a bed of rotten flesh in a fish market, Grenouille finds himself abandoned by his mother, and sent off to an orphanage, where he grows up into a young man, detached from the world, and lost in one obsession- to capture every different scent in his memory. What’s unique about this obsession is that he didn’t distinguish bad smell from good, as long as they were different.


Birth of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille in a fish market in Paris

Birth of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille in a fish market in Paris


The movie begins in a dark atmosphere, dim lighting, perfectly portraying Grenouille’s early struggles in a tannery, and then transitions into a pale yellowish aura, as it begins to tell the story of Grenouille as a young man who meets a brown haired virgin selling green plum. Grenouille falls in love with her scent, and scares her as he begins to smell her.


But as it turns out, he had to unknowingly kill her in the process. Deeply obsessed with the scent of her body, Grenouille begins to smell every inch of her bare corpse until it fades out, and he realises that there is only one thing he wants to do- capture the best scent in the world.


The plum virgin

The plum virgin


The fact that this is a story of a murderer, is perhaps not in the killing of the plum girl at all. Grenouille learns the art of capturing aroma from the Italian perfumer Baldini (played by Dustin Hoffman) , and leaves Paris for Grasse in search of the eternal scent. This is when the story takes a turn. Or not.


Dustin Hoffman as Perfumer Baldini

Dustin Hoffman as Perfumer Baldini


In a sense, this is not a story of a murderer at all. And it is perhaps that what we witness in the core of the story. He lies drowned in his art of capturing odour. Nothing else matters to him. There are no attachments for people, but their scents. Grenouille composes the harmony of the scent he dreamt of perfuming, by putting together nine basic chords of the perfume that would make it eternal. And so it does.


Laura, the thirteenth chord of Grenouille's harmony (played by Rachel Hurd-Wood)

Laura, the thirteenth chord of Grenouille’s harmony (played by Rachel Hurd-Wood)


Can there be anything so beautiful and rejuvenating that it loosens your morals? That when it has its influence on you to such an extent, that you forget who you are, and who you are meant to be? Can love and lust be purer than we think them to be? Are there any boundaries to our mind at all? The answer to these lie hidden in the perfume Grenouille creates, rendering himself a murderer.

“He could do all this, and more, if he wanted to. He possessed a power stronger than the power of money, or terror, or death. The invincible power to command the love of mankind. There was only one thing the perfume could not do- It could not turn him into a person who could love and be loved like everyone else.” These lines form the heart of the movie.


Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (played by Ben Wishaw)

Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (played by Ben Wishaw)


What is done to the murderer? How does he perish? Does Grenouille even end, or for that matter, the perfume? These are questions that the movie wouldn’t tell you the answers to. But you will find them in the back of your mind.


With good cinematography, intricate layering, and music, the movie does exactly what what is needed to tell a story of such depth, yet so simple. The cameras capture the minute details of subjects that are vital in telling the story with the required precision. The movie is woven intricately with enthralling music, backed by a baritone voiced narration, and classic dialogues. However, the screenplay could have been less inconsistent for a story of such splendour.


The only thing the movie fails to do, is put you into a real-life aromatic experience. But given the way the story puts you into the scenes with such detailing in every frame and realistic imagery of 18th Century Paris, you could almost smell Grenouille’s perfume at certain points of the movie.


Stills from motion picture ‘Perfume- The Story of a Murderer’



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1 Discussion on “Perfume – The Story of a Murderer”
  • It is a great movie and the novel in its own right as some of the interesting passages are not converted in the movie

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