The Sense of Smell
As strange as Perfume is, perhaps one of the strangest (and most fascinating) things about it is its overarching interest in the sense of smell. Tykwer’s film discusses smell, and it places scent and smell firmly at its forefront. But the film does much more than just discuss scents and the sense of smell in an abstract way; it also comes as close as it possibly can to rendering scent visible.
Because scent is more or less invisible and is totally silent, the sense of smell is simply not one that films typically seek to engage. Why films usually ignore the olfactory system of their viewers is understandable, but Perfume challenges their tendency to do so. By featuring the sense of smell as it does, by using the visual to evoke scent powerfully, and by strongly impacting viewers, the film almost seems to tap into some secret power that was apparently there for filmmakers to engage with all along.
The fact that scent is typically ignored by cinema is hardly the only reason that its presence and efficacy are important to Perfume. While the film is interested in asserting the general power of scent as well as the fact that it’s virtually everywhere, it also aims to investigate and to reveal what it is that makes scent unique and fascinating.