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Jean-Baptiste Grenouille

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Jean-Baptiste Grenouille

In the 1985 Patrick Süskind novel Perfume (and its subsequent 2006 film adaptation Perfume: The Story of a Murderer), Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is a man born with a heightened sense of smell who seeks the perfect scent, noting that he lacks his own, which drives him to create a scent to identify himself and be noticed. He is portrayed by Ben Whishaw in the film.


He is born in Paris on July 17, 1738 to a woman working at the fish stall who, after having given birth to stillborns and semi-stillborns, decides to leave him for dead. His cries, however, notify the authorities who place him within an orphanage while hanging her for attempted infanticide. (In the novel, however, he is passed over several wet nurses who reject him for lacking a body odor.) He eventually becomes a tanner's apprentice and becomes fixated on the body odor of a young woman selling plums. He pursues her for the scene that draws him and kills her via smothering so he can continue to smell her (particularly focusing on her breasts in the film) until the attractive scent is lost. Back in the tanner's building, he pledges to recreate the scent and becomes fixated on women who smell in a similar way.

To accomplish this goal, Grenouille becomes the apprentice of Baldini, a master perfumer, and works to create the perfect scent (although he finds that Baldini's machinery nor his own normally scent-isolating sense of smell will function for other such scents as iron and a cat thrown in as an experiment). While initially depressed over the matter, he is encouraged to go to Grasse and Baldini perishes following Grenouille's leave. Over time, Grenouille makes his way to Grasse wherein he follows the scent of the alluring Laura, desiring to recapture her scent in the ultimate perfume. In the meantime, Grenouille also pursues and murders several other young women in an attempt to reclaim their scents (such as the woman in the film he attempts to preserve within a tank). Eventually, he takes advantage of his lack of body odor to murder and claim Laura's smell while remaining undetected. However, he is later captured and sentenced to be executed via hanging. Despite this, Grenouille escapes by using his perfect perfume smell to make the crowd believe he is an angel, driving the crowd into a massive orgy fueled by the "love" they feel for him, thus making himself noticed. With this, Grenouille escapes.

After leaving Grasse, Grenouille has created enough of the perfume so to conquer the world should he feel like it. But at the end, Grenouille discovers that for all of his efforts, the love he feels and receives from the crowd due to his miraculous perfume is hollow and not like the love he wishes to experience or receive. Knowing that his efforts have been in vain and that he can never be truly loved, Grenouille returns to Paris where he walks initially unnoticed among thieves and riffraff. He takes a bottle of his perfume and pours upon himself, which drives the thieves and riffraff to murder him out of love by cannibalism.

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