Perfume

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"The soul of beings is their scent."
Jean-Baptiste Grenouille

A 1985 Gothic novel by Patrick Süskind, Perfume (or Das Parfüm in the original German) tells the story of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, an orphan and a sociopath born into 18th century France. It turns out that Grenouille has an extraordinary sense of smell, but, curiously, he himself has no body odour.

Fittingly enough he becomes a perfumer, eagerly learning various methods to extract the smell from all kinds of things. It is then when he decides to create the most perfect perfume ever by capturing the scents of virginal girls, a fragrance so beautiful that all who smell it will think that they're in heaven. Of course, Grenouille has to keep this noble artistic vision a secret from society, as extracting a girl's scent requires killing her.

It was adapted into a 2006 film: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, directed by Tom Tykwer, most known for his film Run Lola Run. The film stars Ben Whishaw as Grenouille, Dustin Hoffman as Baldini, the perfumer who teaches him the basics of the trade, Rachel Hurd-Wood as Laura Richis, a beautiful and imperiled lady in Grenouille's sights, and Alan Rickman as Antoine Richis, Laura's protective father.

Tropes used in Perfume include:
  • Animals Hate Him: Subverted: The watchdog ignores Grenouille because he has no scent.
  • Arranged Marriage: Laura is arranged to be married by her father to a wealthy, handsome, and apparently loving man. She's apprehensive about the arrangement.
  • Asexuality: Grenouille has no interest in sex, at least not as we know it. He gains all his pleasures from scents.
  • Author Appeal: Both authour Süskind and director Tykwer seem to have a thing for redheads.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Grenouille kills Laura, creates his perfume, and escapes execution. However, he finds that his perfume doesn't grant him happiness.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Played straight in the case of Grenouille. In the book he's a deformed, troll-like man. In the film he's got a case of Hollywood Homely.
  • Book Dumb: Grenouille is quite intelligent, but was raised as a tanner's apprentice and has no education.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: After Grenouille is captured, he's suspended upside down and his head is dipped into water for periods of time. He is also sentenced to be publicly tortured before execution.
  • Determinator: The narrator emphasizes Grenouille's great will to survive through a childhood that would have killed most others. In the book, he is described as a tick, enduring through the harsh childhood
  • Damsel in Distress: Laura Richis is helpless against Grenouille and must be protected.
  • Doom Magnet: Everyone who takes care of Grenouille dies soon after he leaves them. The only exception is Madame Gaillard - her problem is that she lives much longer than she wanted to.
  • Driven to Suicide: Grenouille realizes that he'll be Lonely At The Top, and has no other reason to live.
  • Drop-Dead Gorgeous: Grenouille dumps the naked bodies of his victims throughout the city. Also present in the film poster on this page. After watching the film, it becomes more clear that the woman pictured is dead.
  • The Dung Ages: The slums of 18th century France are a filthy and disgusting place. The book and film go into particular length about the foul odors. In the book, Grenouille's mother is described as "relatively handsome", meaning here that she's still some teeth left in her mouth and some hair on her head, no diseases except syphilis, gout and a slight case of tuberculosis, and expects to live for a long time - five or even ten years. Parisians were banned from expanding outside the city walls, and the filth, pollution and overcrowding were a major contributor to the French Revolution. On the other hand, the countryside and wealthy parts of France are portrayed as quite gorgeous.
  • Dying Alone: Inverted with Madame Gaillard, who runs the orpanage where Grenouille was raised. She collects money so she could die alone in her own home, instead of a public hospital. However, she doesn't die soon enough, in the French Revolution her money becomes worthless, and she dies in the way she was trying to avoid in her whole life.
  • Emotion Bomb: The perfect perfume. Grenouille uses the emotional effects of the perfume to get the entire city's population to universally declare him innocent of murder. Even Antoine Richis succumbs once he draws within arm's reach.
  • Enfant Terrible: Grenouille in his youth.
  • Final Girl: Subverted. Laura is teased as the one girl to survive Grenouille's murderous plot, to the point that he hesitates when he finally has her in his grasp... but he still kills her.
  • For the Evulz: When Grenouille asks himself that why does he want to rule humanity, his only answer is that because he's thoroughly evil.
  • Gay Paree: Parts of the story take place in Paris, though lower-class areas are pretty squalid.
  • Glamour: The premise of the story is that this is more than just figurative.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Grenouille's body is covered in scars and old burns from the tannery. His brutal master is particularly gruesome.
  • Gotta Catch Them All: In the film, Grenouille needs thirteen scents to create his perfect perfume. Each of these scents comes from a beautiful woman. This also doubles as Gotta Kill Them All: he keeps the scent, but discards the person it once belonged to.
  • Gross Up Close-Up: Grenouille smells a dead rat, giving us a close-up of the maggots inside. Thanks.
  • Hard Work Hardly Works: Empowered by his super-human sense of smell, Grenouille is a vastly superior perfume maker than Baldini and even his more successful rivals, despite their decades of experience.
  • Hero Antagonist: Antoine Richis, played by Alan Rickman, is an effective community leader and loving father trying to stop Grenouille's rampage.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Grenouille is most entranced by the scents of the Plum Girl and Laura, both redheads, though he feels no romantic interest in them. It's played straight in the book, however, as Grenouille smells "the scent of love" from the Plum Girl.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Grenouille kills himself using his own perfume.
  • Implacable Man: Grenouille tracks Laura across the countryside by smell, on foot, past all her father's defenses, right into her bedroom.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: After Grenouille empties his bottle of perfume over his head, a nearby crowd is so overwhelmed by Grenouille's concentrated beauty that they completely devour him out of love.
  • Lonely at the Top: Grenouille's completed perfume gives him the power to rule the world, but he realizes that it won't make him happy, so he commits suicide instead.
  • Love Is in the Air.
  • Mad Artist: The central concept of the film: Grenouille makes the world's most beautiful perfume through murder.
  • Magic Realism: Grenouille's sense of smell, the fact that he has no body odour of his own, the lethal misfortunes of all his former keepers, and the effects of his perfume all breach the confines of either possibility or probability.
  • Meaningful Name: Grenouille means "frog."
  • More Than Mind Control: The ultimate scent.
  • Mummies At the Dinner Table: After killing the Plum Girl, Grenouille strips her naked and smells her until her scent fades.
  • Narrator: John Hurt provides some excellent narration in the film.
  • The Nondescript: Grenouille has no scent of his own, causing people to instinctively treat him as a cipher beneath their notice. Even a watchdog ignores him. This is part of his motivation to create the perfect scent.
  • Non-Idle Rich: The wealthy leaders of Grasse, lead by Antoine Richis, work to stop the serial killer.
  • The Nose Knows: The entire plot revolves around Grenouille's downright superhuman sense of smell.
  • Obsolete Mentor: Baldini teaches Grenouille a method to make perfume, but the method isn't sufficient for him, forcing him to go elsewhere.
  • Only Sane Man: Richis is this, for being the only person in the city who knows that the killer is still out there. He's also the only person in the crowd to resist Grenouille's perfume, until he comes too close, and it overpowers even him.
  • Orphanage of Fear: Grenouille is raised in one of these. In the film, conditions are so bad that the other orphans try to kill him as a newborn to save room. In the book, the other kids are afraid of him.
  • Overprotective Dad: Antoine Richis, justified in that there is a murderer at large.
  • Parental Abandonment: Grenouille's mother is executed for trying to kill him. We never learn anything about his father.
  • People Jars: Grenouille puts a woman in a large glass vat in a failed attempt to extract her scent.
  • Photographic Memory: So to speak. In the book, Grenouille can perfectly remember every scent he ever smelled.
  • The Pig Pen: Grenouille is almost always covered in grime, especially when he is a penniless tanner's apprentice.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Antoine Richis sets about handling the serial killer crisis in an intelligent and logical manner.
  • Rebellious Princess: A noble young lady recently arranged to be married to a man she barely knows, Laura flirts with being rebellious but ultimately obeys her father.
  • Scarily Competent Tracker: Grenouille's sense of smell allows him to track people over miles of countryside and through twisty alleyways.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Grenouille stalks the Plum Girl and Laura Richis to enjoy their scents.
  • Suicide by Cop: After realizing that his perfume will not grant him happiness, Grenouille uses the remainder of it to get some street riff-raff to eat him. The omniscient narrator of the book notes that they're all criminals.
  • Super Senses: Grenouille's sense of smell is so strong that he can smell things like glass, replicate the exact formulae of perfumes, and sense incoming projectiles.
  • Sympathy for the Devil: Grenouille.
  • Traumatic Haircut: Grenouille's victims are found with their hair shorn to stubble. Perhaps not so traumatic for the women themselves, who were already dead when it happened and thus past caring, but certainly adding to their debasement and their families' horror.
  • Trippy Finale Syndrome: Grenouille uses his completed perfume to cause the crowd at his execution to fall into a massive orgy. Later, he dumps the entire bottle over his head, causing a nearby crowd to eat him. Wow.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Grenouille wants to create heaven on earth with his perfect perfume, and he's willing to kill without remorse to get it. When he finally makes the perfume, however, he finds the love that it grants him is hollow.
  • Villain Protagonist: Grenouille is a pitiless murderer, but this is his story.
  • Wanting Is Better Than Having: Grenouille spends most of the film creating the perfect perfume. Once he uses it, he decides that it doesn't really give him what he wants after all.