The Voices: Director Marjane Satrapi
In 2009, I and some friends went to see Marjane Satrapi speak at a local university. She was smart and funny, speaking in a thick French accent and talking about her comic book (her term) Persepolis. This comic has been compared to Art Spiegelman’s work Maus, deservedly so. So it came as a surprise to find that the director of The Voices, a horror/comedy film, was the very same Marjane Satrapi.
Ryan Reynolds is perfect in his role as psychotic protagonist: he has that boy next door look, yet he’s doing very bad things. And there is some pathos here; there is some sympathy for him, there is a clear struggle going on inside his head. His cat and dog, Mr. Whiskers and Bosco, respectively, play his good/bad sides, the cat directing him to follow his delusions in a Scottish brogue. The conversations between cat and dog are often hilarious, as they argue over what Jerry should do. Subtle jab at all the crazy cat ladies here; many do talk to their cats, but the cats are usually silent. I’m guessing.
The humor is offset by grisly, bloody murders, the first being an English coworker Jerry has a crush on. After an accident in which a deer ends up halfway through the windshield of Jerry’s truck, the deer tells Jerry to end it all, and Jerry complies. Laughter turns to horror as Jerry hacks his way through the deer’s throat, as per the deer’s last request. But, as with most horror, the story takes a deeper and more thoroughly disturbing turn when Jerry accidentally kills Fiona, his crush. And then he hacks her body into dinner-sized pieces, enough to fill a large number of plastic see-through containers.
Black comedy—certainly. I laughed more than anything in this film. The real horror for Jerry, though, is when he finally takes his anti-psychotic (after some cajoling from the head of Fiona, sitting in his fridge) and there is the horror of ‘reality.’
Reality is a cold, gruesome slap in the face; the apartment over the abandoned bowling alley is covered with dark blood, and there gray logs of cat puke on every surface. Jerry tries to strike up a conversation with his cat and dog, but neither responds. Jerry doesn’t like this version of reality (or himself) and vows never to take the pills again, chucking the entire bottle into the garbage disposal. The meds wear off, and the voices and butterflies return. Jerry’s version of what is ‘normal’ to him is his delusional state, but the audience must be complicit in this delusion; the audience must go along with this thwarted and disturbed logic in order for the film to work.
Of note is the fact that Jerry has no real support system. No family (we find later that he may have killed his mother at a young age) and just the one therapist, played by Jackie Weaver, who he lies to at each session. Nothing more stringent is in place; no blood tests to check med levels, no home visits, nothing. Some shallow support at work, and a bunch of girls who think he is ‘hot.’
Eventually he admits to hearing the voices, but only after he’s killed three women. And then, as if to symbolize his inability to be heard, he kidnaps his therapist and tapes her mouth, in order to talk to her.
The doc tells him—they are just thoughts, you don’t have to obey them. She tells him, unconvincingly, that lots of people hear voices. But he doesn’t—or can’t—resist. The voices are too comfortable, too familiar.
No one really confronts Jerry’s illness; the end is an easy way out for everyone. Jerry dies in a fire, it’s no one’s fault. He lies to his therapist—common. But no one checks on Jerry at home; no one follows up with him and does a home visit, which is common in mental illness care. Jerry is living in a horrorshow kind of squalor, but no one knows. And in America, if you don’t see it, it must not exist.
This is a brave outing for comic book writer Satrapi, but I think it pays off. The film ends with an odd musical number, Jerry and his victims singing together in some happy-happy-joy-joy place, full of bright light and no gore.