A voice tells us about the current state of the world; how there is darkness and light, and there are women AND men, and there is food…and a bunch of other stuff. In order to convince of this, we are also shown footage of men and food and women and darkness, right along with the voice over. I know this seems pedantic, but ask yourself this…what unites these images? Answer: they are from all over the world! Duh!
The point is that, no matter what country you live in, it’s got women and food and darkness and everything else. So, we are really all the same, basically. Van Halen made a similar point with the song “Humans Being” on the Twister soundtrack, albeit with way more guitar solos. So, maybe this is a boring way to kick off a movie, but we get to see Eva Green’s tits in the next scene. The nudity is actually a flash forward to the point at which the characters Susan and Michael (Eva and Ewan McGregor, respectively) already have a relationship. I guess the opening is meant to setup the dynamic of the film; that is, humanity as a whole is about to experience something, but we are ultimately going to experience it on intimate terms with this couple. The cynical might say that the nudity is forced in there to hook the audience, but I’m not cynical. Not meeeeee!
Ewan plays a chef at a fancy restaurant in Glasgow, and helping him in the kitchen is Spud from Trainspotting. I know I may be in the minority on this one, but I’m glad they finally sold out and embraced leisure wear and matching luggage. Heroin is, if I remember correctly from my DARE education, “a dead end street that will only end in tears”. Anyway, Susan lives right near the restaurant, and they meet one day when he asks her for a cigarette on his smoke break (me thinks he came unprepared). Of course, since this is a romance, this has to be a scene where she is annoyed by him and doesn’t want anything to do with him. That way, when Michael charms her the next time they meet, the audience will feel like he accomplished something. I think it’s pretty much illegal not to have a scene like that in a romantic movie.
Susan is a hot scientist that is dealing with a unique problem; there is some sort of pandemic that is causing people to lose their sense of smell! Needless to say, this fucks over the restaurant where Michael works, as people aren’t going to pay good money for food when they have problems tasting stuff. However, it doesn’t end there. There are different symptoms that affect human beings around the world at the same time, as the disease has several different stages. There’s a montage where everybody suddenly becomes angry, and this is conveyed with Youtube clips of riots and people punching other people in the head. There’s a point where suddenly everyone becomes so hungry that they eat anything in sight, leading to a laughable (and vaguely sexual) scene of Eva Green munching on a bouquet of flowers like a hungry dog on PCP (or just a hungry dog). Another symptom is that people become really sad and fall over and start crying, leading to a montage that would pass for a pretty good parody of R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts”.
However, everything is DEAD serious, as Susan gives vague and portentous voice over about human nature during the many montages, accompanied by a mawkish score that pounds you over the head (although the music would be very good if listened to on it’s own, sort of like how the Twister soundtrack is pretty rad when divorced from the dumbass movie). Instead of giving us specific information and context about what is happening on a global scale (Soderbergh’s Contagion did this very well), these montages ultimately tells us very little. Susan is a scientist dealing with the situation, but her remarks offer absolutely no insight on the matter. Susan could have been an interesting character, a scientist trying to get to the bottom of the plague while being affected by it on a personal level, but it seems that making her a scientist dealing with the plague is merely an exposition device. She never has any insight on the plague, nor a noticeable drive to find out what is really going on (apart from science montages, and I don’t count those).
It seems like the filmmakers were trying to focus on the human effects of this mysterious disease, and therefore, be a “humanistic” plague movie. However, the “plague” itself becomes an extremely forced way to hammer home the point that “we are all the same”. It’s like a noble sounding arthouse version of a pandemic that causes supermodels to want to take their clothes off and wrestle in Jell-O. Anybody can come up with a worldwide plague that has a bunch of random effects that sends home whatever postcard bullshit you want to convey. The key is to make it specifically defined and scientifically plausible. You are not exempt from this just because you make your movie seem “important”.
They could have had two isolated characters being affected by a plague they don’t understand, but the movie includes constant worldwide updates by an omnipresent scientist. Yet the movie itself seems not to understand anything that’s going on. You can’t have it both ways. It’s either mysterious or it isn’t. These worldwide montages are inexcusable from a filmmaking standpoint, but they also take away from the relationship, both by cutting away from it and by not leaving more time for it to develop.
Having said that, there are some nice scenes between the two actors, and some cool little ideas that actually seem logical, like the scene where Michael visits a music club after everyone goes deaf, and the band is playing low frequency instruments that can be felt rather than heard. However, the film is ruined by the vague science fiction storytelling and the insistent hammering home of Hallmark platitudes. It’s like listening to someone ramble on in a coffee shop, saying “you know, if things went bad around the world or whatever, people would, like, come together and stuff and realize what’s important.” Maybe, maybe not, but show me a story where this happens; don’t just fucking talk about it for 90 minutes. Also, please lose the beret. We’re in Starbucks, not a café in sixties Paris. Asshole.