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Psych on Screen
The Five Senses

By Elaine Cassel

A movie plot written around the five senses is not something you would expect in a first-run theatre. Maybe on an educational channel on TV. But a film made and set in Canada and directed by a Canadian (Jeremy Podeswa) is just that. Named aptly, The Five Senses, it introduces the audience to a group of people whose lives intersect in the course of three days. Each of the main characters expresses one highly developed sense, often to the detriment of another. In some cases, their "hyper" sensory capacities underlie their dysfunctions, and obsessions with their deficits drive them to odd behaviors.

The plot, which some may see as merely a vehicle to portray characters in a novel way, centers on a child who turns up missing while in the care of a sullen teenage babysitter, Rachel. A voyeur obsessed with watching other people make out, Rachel's defining sense is sight. The disappearance of the child leads to a citywide search in Toronto, setting the stage for the interaction between the characters.

Rachel's mother, Ruth, is a massage therapist, obviously having mastered the sense of touch. Ruth's neighbor, Rona, bakes cakes that look great but have no taste, representing taste gone awry. Her former lover, now friend, the bisexual Robert, has come to stay with her to help her through this difficult time. He is an obsessive housecleaner who believes that he will find true love through the sense of smell. By odor, he will know if he/she is the "One."

Since Ruth really has no sense of taste, it is fortunate that her Italian boyfriend is a great cook who easily outshines her in the kitchen (and who is good in the bedroom, too). In the taste department, they are ying and yang and he helps her get in tough with her feelings.

At the center of the goings on is a French ophthalmologist (eye doctor), who is going deaf. He pays careful visual attention to events taking place and the emotions expressed, while at the same time trying to hear all that he can. He wants to accumulate an encyclopedia of sounds in his memory bank before he loses his hearing. He passes up no opportunity to listen and is especially good at using heating and air conditioning ducts to retrieve sound. He is consoled by a prostitute who assures him that life will still be worth living when he is deaf.

If all of this sounds preposterous, it is somewhat. Often writer-director Podeswa seems to be reaching to stay with the plot while developing the theme of how senses can shape experience. But there is a lot of psychology here in the depiction of the five senses, how the characters use and abuse their sensory strengths, and how they try--and sometimes succeed--to make up for their sensory deprivations.

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