Analysis Of The Film Adaptation Of The Novel Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer By Patrick Süskind

The novel Perfume: the Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind tells the tale of the life, and death, of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille in 18th century France. The story follows Grenouille from birth through his efforts to perfect his perfume craft and to eventually reach his ultimate goal, to capture the scent of young women. The novel was transformed into a motion picture in 2006 by director Tom Tykwer. The film is a faithful reproduction of the original Süskind tale, hitting the major plot points and scenes with near flawless accuracy. Of course some scenes needed to be omitted or altered before being taken to the big screen, or else the movie would be terribly long. Some scenes have some minor details altered, some have a difficult time transferring what the novel conveys into a film production, and others still are omitted due to limitations or time. In the following pages, the well done and accurate scenes will be presented alongside some that were omitted or altered for sake of filming.

Several scenes in the film portray exactly what Süskind wrote in the original novel, with exceptional accuracy and attention to details. One scene from the novel that is brought to film with perfect accuracy is the scene in which Grenouille is describing the area around him, using only the scents of the objects. This section is shown by Grenouille describing a nearby pond by smell alone, with incredible accuracy. The film seems to follow his range of scent as he smells the pond naming each thing as he goes along, going from the orphanage around him to the depths of the pond. One scene in particular is actually portrayed clearer in the movie than in the novel. The emotions and the reactions to Genouilles perfume in the execution scene are portrayed more accurately in the film, as it is easier to see what is going on in the film. Süskind’s passage isn’t very blatant about the actions going on, unlike the film. “Meanwhile the masses on the sother side of the barricade were giving themselves over even more shamelessly to the uncanny rsh of emotion that Grenouilles appearance had unleashed.” 

Other scenes had some deficiencies when compared to the novel or were omitted. Many slight differences from the novel are present in the film. Grenouilles final hour in the novel is portrayed with brutal accuracy in the film, down to the very minute of his death. A subtle difference, however, is the fact that the death occurred in the fish market where he was born and not in a graveyard. In the film, Grenouille finds himself in a market before he douses himself with the perfume and is killed. In the novel this scene is described differently as written by Süskind, “He walked across the Pont-Neuf to the right bank, and then down to Les Halles and the Cimetiere des Innocents. He sat down in the arcades of the charnel house bordering the rue aux Fers. Before him lay the cemetery grounds like a cratered battlefield, burrowed and ditched and trenched with graves, sown with skulls and bones, not a tree, bush, or blade of grass, a garbage dump of death.” Early on in the film, small differences can be seen between the two works. In the film, when young Grenouille arrives at the orphanage, the other orphans almost immediately attempt to smother him out of fear. The children are very obviously fearful of Grenouille, but it is not clear why. In the novel, it is made clear that Grenouille has no smell to him. This lack of smell is what scares the many people he comes in contact with, to include the orphanage children. Tykwer also omitted a rather important passage from the novel that occurs before his arrival at the orphanage. In the novel Grenouille is sent to a wet nurse in a nearby monastery. This nurse refuses to care for Grenouille, again due to his lack of scent. This refusal is what leads to Grenouille being sent to the orphanage, which is completely absent in the film.

Süskind’s original work had some descriptions and events that were difficult to put to film, even somewhat difficult to bring out of the text when reading. Tykwer had a lot of material to work with from the original book when writing and producing the film adaptation and had to take Süskind’s words and transform them into screenplay. The scenes altered or omitted from the final work can mostly be attributed to time or material constraints, although some changes leave the viewer wondering why.

09 March 2021
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