I’d honestly lost track of Marjane Satrapi’s work after the excellent Persepolis, so on a spare night looking for a film to please a group with diverse tastes, The Voices was a pleasant surprise to stumble across.
This is a black comedy, with a very dicey concept that could go wrong in all sorts of ways. Ryan Reynolds plays Jerry, a man who hears voices, particularly embodied in his pets (also voiced by Reynolds with caricatured hilarity), and carries out a misogynistic killing spree.
As a depiction of mental illness, the film should be taken with a large pile of salt. Jerry’s delusions are advanced well beyond typical schizophrenia, to the sort of fantasised extent that largely exists in movies (Maxime Alexandre’s cinematography draws a clear and aesthetically pleasing distinction between delusion and reality). Mental health advocates were unthrilled by yet another film linking mental illness with serial murder.
Conversely, a master-stroke near the end of the film sees Jerry’s therapist (Jacki Weaver) articulate her own anxieties, and offer Jerry some excellent-if-belated advice. Jerry’s unwillingness to openly disclose his problems until this point contribute to the corner he backs himself into.
As a portrayal of violent misogyny, the film is unforgiving if comedic, in a similar vein to feminist director Mary Harron’s American Psycho (with a similar problem that this means yet more graphic cinematic violence towards women). Jerry’s voices surprisingly give him few excuses, shooting down many of his rationalisations.
Although the women in the film are flawed, Jerry’s actions are clearly motivated by a festering resentment that he cannot control them by other means. Jerry also fails to register overt social cues from women, although it is not always clear whether this is a matter of misogyny or broader social impairment.
As a day-glo satire of middle-America, The Voices hits a number of high notes. Screenwriter Michael R Perry cut his teeth on Eerie Indiana, an early 90s suburban X-Files for kids, and this film hits a similar (if cinematically well-trod) tone of uneasy kitsch. Iranian-born French director Satrapi’s involvement also prompts thoughts about the value of cross-cultural social observation.
From the outset, the film mocks the banality of the environment, with English outsider Fiona (Gemma Arterton) openly stating her boredom. Yet just under the surface lies a deeply sympathetic portrayal of isolation in a barren, exploitative wasteland. While shooting down excuses for Jerry’s actions, the story implies a link between alienation and nihilistic violence.
A flawed, even ‘problematic’ film, but recommended for fans of black comedy.