I couldn’t help but compare this episode of Dantalian to the 2006 German film, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. I saw the film only once when it was first released on DVD in the U.S., and despite the one-time only experience, I still find it both deeply disturbing and beautiful at the same time.
Both episode and film highlight the perfume industry, as well as two individuals who demonstrate talent and skill for both extraction and creation of scents. And while their personalities couldn’t be any more different from one another, their end goals are remarkably similar: to create the perfect scent.
In Fiona’s case, she seeks to re-create happiness, “…the feeling you get when you realize how great it is to be alive…Like when you’re lying in bed on a cold winter morning, or when you’re resting under a tree in the summer, or when you look up at the clear sky on an autumn evening” (per Commie subs). This obviously differs from person to person, but the feeling is easily relatable. In my case, it would be lying down after having just finished an incredible book late in the evening and smelling its preferably weathered pages. But, that’s just a personal example. *Ahem* Unfortunately, in her quest to happiness, she created two “failed” products, the publicly released Blue Trance, and the privately sold Relic. While the watered-down Blue Trance only barely reaches Fiona’s desired end, Relic’s narcotic makes you a dependent user and quickly drives you insane. Her ability to read the Phantom Book, the Gandharva Sacred Text, also taught her scents to heighten all bodily senses, hypnotize, and lose consciousness–among others, presumably. Though she could have easily used these mixtures for profit, she instead uses them only to atone for Relic, which in the end also costs Fiona her life.
Unlike Fiona, who pulls her lessons from the pages of a Phantom Book, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille of Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is a born olfactory genius. Even as a child, he is fascinated by the odor of every dead and living being. The film also stuns with its visuals, which are lush and colorful, as well as revealing of the grime and sweat that covers the poorer classes of France. The quality of the visuals greatly aids the believability of Jean-Baptiste’s talents. Along his journey of wonderment, he accidentally commits his first murder of a young girl whose scent entrances him. However, as her body cools, so does her smell. It is after this death that the protagonist joins his lesson of the harmonic elements of twelve scents as well as the rumored thirteenth scent with his desire to create the perfect perfume. Sadly (though not in his point of view), this means the death of thirteen women of mesmerizing odors. The story follows this predictable set-up, and we watch Jean-Baptiste kill woman after woman. Despite our protagonist’s triumphant preservation of the smells all thirteen women, he is caught and condemned to death. However, his application of just one drop from the resulting concoction of his murders halts his own execution and drives the surrounding populace into a sexual frenzy–he becomes audience to a widespread orgy. Although his perfume has proven successful, we watch him come to the realization that the surrounding acts of love only highlight his own perpetual solitude. Jean-Baptiste loves no one and is loved by no one. He escapes his execution only to immediately create his own death; after returning to the grungy marketplace of his birth, he douses himself in his creation and is literally devoured by the people around him.
The dark ends for both Fiona and Jean-Baptiste are a large part of why the experiences left such strong impressions on me. They had the ability to command others at will, to bring happiness and also despair. I also felt that they upheld a common lesson to the viewer, one that found it better not to know “the perfect scent.” Such power only invites abuse, the overdose of which seems to provoke the raw desires for love and happiness in the ugliest ways possible. The burning of Fiona’s laboratory in Dantalian had a fitting, though ironic, result that only promoted the futility of her quest for perfection. It is only in the burning and accidental mixture of materials that the scent for happiness is born. Dalian, Huey, and the surrounding residents all sniff the mysterious aroma. Dalian harkens back to Fiona’s earlier comment and links scent to memory, keeping her own resulting memory of happiness a secret to both Huey and to us. A hint for future background information on her, perhaps?