The Voices is a black comedy directed by Iranian-born French director, Marjane Satrapi. It’s the first 2015 release (although it premiered at Sundance last year) that has truly given me a kick and indulged my love of the more revolting incarnation of the black comedy genre. It’s a film filled with crystal smiles, alluring eyes, beautiful cheekbones and generally beautiful people with a cast of Ryan Reynolds, Gemma Arteton, Anna Kendrick and Jackie Weaver but unfortunately, our world here is anything but.
Reynolds plays Jerry, a very delighted and gratified worker at a toy factory. He lives in a small apartment atop and abandoned bowling alley and the only apparent friends in his life are his cat, Mr Whiskers, and his dog, Bosco. You can’t fault him for that because they talk back, or maybe not. Jerry has some mental illness and requires his meds regularly to function normally and he is reminded of this fact by Dr Warren (Weaver). Without his medication his illness becomes apparent in his interactions with his pets (both voiced by Reynolds).
Bosco is the archetypal dog: loyal, dependent and basically man’s best friend, but Mr Whiskers on the other hand is another matter. Talking pets are so the 90’s but, kind of like Ted, our cynical selves are more accepting of this kind of stuff when an adorable feline has a Scottish accent and is spewing vile words into your ears and nudging you towards a homicidal streak. A series of events leads to Jerry causing the accidental death of his co-worker and crush, Fiona (Arteton). It’s a truly horrible and grisly turn of events on a massive tangent from the film’s initial tone, but Mr Whiskers is there to coach Jerry through his conundrum and before you know it, Fiona’s parts are packed neatly in some plastic containers and her head sitting nicely, with its pretty face and purple lipstick, in his fridge. And oh, the head starts talking to him too.
Satrapi does this interesting thing of infusing almost every scene with a hint of purple/violet (can’t tell the difference), be it in Jerry’s uniform or Fiona’s pretty dress or butterflies noticeably fluttering about and it creates such an ebullient aura. You can almost smell the cherry aroma in the air and it felt like every character should have been lying on blankets, picnic baskets on hand. It’s all such a beautiful exterior but when the film starts to unravel, it reveals a rotten and violent core. The Jerry we meet was born out of a major act of violence during his childhood, and even after the internalized battle between good and evil being manifested by his discourse with his pets, he still opts for the path that formed him.
The blissful world we see is the one the eyes of crazy Jerry, but after Fiona’s death, he initially comes around to taking his meds and lucidity and reality sets home as jerry becomes aware of the depressing and lonely world he lives in and he does not like it. He prefers the delight of insanity and rushes back to it. The film is becomes very aware of this at this point, but doesn’t cast him as willfully evil. Instead it displays some nuance in assessing the effect of mental illness on him, whilst further endearing him to us and drawing some compassion. Because not only is Jerry broken and at one with violence, but the killing coupled with his illness is in some weird way the one way he gets himself friends and companions – crazy right? The film could have taken the slasher route and racked up the body count, but instead opts to deconstruct this killer with very unique motives, who perhaps is still the young boy who endured grim heartbreak.
Reynolds is very good here delivering on his usual charm and added childlike innocence really milking our sympathy despite the harrowing details, and actions that stain his character. I dare say very few characters could have brought on board the same skill. The film is ultimately a one of a kind take on a killer, a real novelty. There is a refreshing quirkiness accompanying its execution. And I admit at times it feels too quirky and doesn’t really bow out on the edgy note I maybe wanted it to. Nevertheless it is a real innovative piece of work from Satrapi.