Plot: Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, a man completely lacking in humanity but possessing a heightened sense of smell, wreaks havoc on the world around him as he endeavors to capture the very essence of human beings. Grenouille is basically a vampire who thirsts after scents rather than blood and in attempting to capture various scents to create one perfect, beautiful scent, he leaves a trail of bodies behind him.
Primary Differences Between Book and Film: Plotwise, the differences between the two are minimal and largely the result of the film having to compress the timeline. A small subplot involving Grenouille's experience as a scientific oddity is cut completely and not particularly missed. In terms of characterization, the character of Grenouille is fairly significantly changed. In the book Grenouille is a very conniving character, very calculating and overtly aware of the ways in which he's manipulating people. The film version of Grenouille seems somewhat less aware of how his actions affect those around him and though he's not innocent in a general sense, he seems innocent in the sense that he doesn't seem to understand the full impact of his actions because he doesn't understand what it means to be human.
For The Book: The story is very much an interior one, relying very heavily on the psychological experience derived from the sense of smell. Some of the book's most memorable passages involve breaking down and describing the combination of scents that intoxicate and drive Grenouille, which really can't be translated to film. Further, the book gets deep, deep into Grenouille's head and since he's a character of few spoken words, that means that the film version is going to seem a little shallow in comparison.
For The Film: It sounds impossible, but director Tom Tykwer is able to translate Grenouille's aromatic experiences into a completely visual tableau. This is an expertly adapted film that truly captures the spirit of the source work and runs with it,...