The Voices (2014) Film Review: Some See Angels

The Voices is a tale of madness, it deals with a psychopath who visits violence on others, and who lives in a world populated by angels and talking animals. The story fluctuates between comedy and violence, and views the world through a distinctive and colourful lens.

“THE VOICES”, 2013
Director: Marjane Satrapi,
Dreiundzwanzigste Babelsberg Film GmbH

Marjane Satrapi’s The Voices is a film that fluctuates between two perspectives. It follows the story of Jerry (Ryan Reynolds) a factory worker who sees the world in bright primary colours; his reality is ordered, and not too dissimilar to a ‘50s vision of idealized small town life. But Jerry is also on the brink of a psychotic break, and it seems he’s an unreliable narrator at best.

Jerry’s vision of the world isn’t one shared by anyone else. In his Disneyfied reality things are magical, animals talk to him, and sometimes he sees angels. He shares his home with a cat and a dog, his feline housemate tells him to do cruel things; his canine companion’s voice is kinder. Metaphorically they stand for good and evil, or the forces competing inside of Jerry.

Ryan Reynold’s depicts Jerry’s tortured existence with a likable Seth Rogen slacker quality. He lends the film a breezy charm and the opening half, although at times gruesome, is palatable and enjoyable. Jerry is a man who visits his psychiatrist often, his home is clean and well organized, and when the voices compel him to kill he does so cleanly, and deposits the bright red remains in clean white boxes stacked evenly in his home.

For the most part the story is told from Jerry’s perspective. This framing decision lets audiences inside his head, and allows for some empathy towards him too.

Off His Meds

Jerry’s psychiatrist has prescribed him medication, which he fails to take. This is the narrative decision that’s reflected in the style of the film. When Jerry is taking the drugs life looks a lot less rosy. His home is full of dog and cat shit, there’s blood everywhere, and the decapitated heads of his victims that sit in the fridge do a lot less talking.

Satrapi’s film is an artful and often strange story of a man’s descent into full-blown psychosis. The first two acts are carefully constructed, relying on cinematography to convey the film’s distinctive tone and the fluctuation between good and bad, seen mostly through Jerry’s lens. But the third act is more conventional and sticks to horror genre tropes.

Perhaps the strength of the film is the uneasy juxtaposition between Jerry’s dark actions and the comic narrative and its use of poppy music. Reynolds does well with the source material too and he adds to the convincing tone with his natural charm and charisma. This is a Ryan Reynolds you’ve seen before but he’s in a completely alien context.

Personally this film reminded me most of Boy A, but the reasons for that are more apparent in retrospect. Both however are films that consider the legacy of past actions and the potential of being better in the future. The opening half is quite like Seth MacFarlane’s movie Ted, especially due to the cat’s foul mouthed lexicon. And there’s a hint of Lars and The Real Girl too. But Satrapi’s film is perhaps most like the Seth Rogen film Observe and Report crossed with TV’s Wilfred.

Excellent Supporting Cast

The Voices has a great supporting cast. Anna Kendricks, Gemma Arterton, and Jacki Weaver appear as strong women who have the unfortunate pleasure of knowing Jerry. Their experiences are markedly less colourful than Jerry’s and the way that they perceive the world is notably different too.

Satrapi’s film isn’t especially innovative. But it does consider mental health issues with a degree of gravitas, and an odd sort of palatability. The use of bright primary colours helps but it’s in the contrasts that the film works best. Ryan Reynold’s turn as Jerry lends the film a naïve and childlike tone, making the violence all the more shocking.

What works best in Satrapi’s film is the clever use of both sound and compositional choices to frame the eccentric narrative choices. It’s a colourful film about a decidedly dark character who visits violence on angels, communes with his cat and dog, and lives in a different sort of world to the one that everyone else inhabits.

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The Voices is a tale of opposition between good and evil, light and dark, and delusion and reality. Angels compete with the demonic, and Reynolds both terrifies and charms as psychopath Jerry.
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