Review: The Voices (Marjane Satrapi, 2015)

by Jason Suzuki

There is a type of horror movie, or at least movies in which a serial killer is the protagonist, where the killer meets a nice girl and instead of wondering “who will he kill next?” it’s rather “I hope he doesn’t kill her.” Film’s like Maniacand Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer both to some extant feature this conflict. We hope that love conquers all, even mental illness. We want to forget the murders the protagonist has committed so that whatever humanity is left can take control again. But as we let these films play out we realize that love won’t win out in the end. This fact is something we try to hide from ourselves about our own lives. In Marjane Satrapi’s The Voices, this denial comes in the form of filmic stylistic flourishes most commonly found in comedies where the quirk level is set to high.

Ryan Reynolds plays mentally-ill Jerry. His refusal to take his pills gives him a cheery outlook on life and also gives his pet dog and pet cat conversation skills. His performance can be added to a small yet growing collection of anchoring turns in other films like The Nines and Buried. Jerry is a character who is aware that Bosco and Mr. Whiskers (voiced by Reynolds) are being provided voices by himself, but he can push that into the corner of his mind and treat them like friends who he can listen to about things like his self-worth, his dating life, and whether he should kill again (on purpose this time). Something that doesn’t become aware to the viewer until halfway through the film is that the gloss and the stylistics touches are not just due to Satrapi’s fantastic (both senses of the word) visual eye but they’re how Jerry hides the ugliness of his world to himself when he’s off his meds.

Once this reveal is had, every flourish of whimsy oozes with unease. It’s hard to enjoy all the pretty colors and the intricate, sometimes symmetrical set designs when we know what’s underneath. And as entertaining as Jerry’s “friends” are (Mr. Whiskers is a foul-mouthed Scot) you can understand why Jerry doesn’t want to take his pills.

What Marjane Satrapi has done is found a true character use for her penchant for grand visuals. The movie has some very big leaps in tone but while they have proven jarring to some who have seen the film, they keep in line with Jerry’s day-to-day experiences and his probably mood swings. Korean films have become know for their genre-changes and ability to utilize many different tones. With The Voices it may not seem to work as well, but it stays true to its character.

While love might not win out in the end all the times we hope it will, the ride is fun and interesting (hopefully the film’s soundtrack, some its tracks original to the film yet focalized through Jerry, will be made available). And at least something wins out in the end, another human constant: denial.

Jason Suzuki is co-editor to Cinema Adrift.