Imagine a Disney film about the world’s sweetest serial killer. Imagine if every “talking pet” movie came from within the psyche of a schizophrenic. Imagine Ryan Reynolds in a movie that isn’t terrible.
I was lucky enough to catch The Voices at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival, and I’m going to put forth that it was my absolute favourite thing I saw at the festival As someone with a casual interest in graphic novels, I was aware of and had read Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis I and II back in high school. At 17 , most appreciated it as a coming-of-age tale from a fellow misunderstood rebel. When I reread it in my final year of undergrad after four years of film and cultural theory under my belt, I admired how Satrapi could expertly blend horror and comedy to tell deeply personal and poignant stories.
Persepolis captured the fear and misery of the Iranian revolution and what it felt like to be trapped within one’s country, but unable to escape identifying with it. Mixed within were anecdotes about accidentally throwing all your wine away, parents wearing rock music posters under coats, making fun of stern-faced teachers, and moonwalking like Michael Jackson. The film version of Persepolis succeeded where many comic book adaptations do not, mostly because of Satrapi’s strong artistic vision and understanding of form, movement and tone, and her unique voice. Much like the graphic novel itself, she blends black and white in her work.
The Voices is Satrapi’s fourth film (the first she didn’t write or co-write and her English-language debut) and certainly the most mainstream one she’s done, although the subject matter is anything but. Jerry (Ryan Reynolds) is a shy, mild-mannered young man in an idyllic Midwestern town, who works in an adorable pastel-pink bathtub factory and has a crush on beautiful Fiona (Gemma Arterton) from the office. Like many people in the privacy of their own home, Jerry talks to his pet dog and pet cat, but Jerry’s dog and cat talk back (Ryan Reynolds does two very different voices for Bosco the sweet-natured dog and Mr. Whiskers the diabolical cat, and I wasn’t aware it was him until the end credits). Jerry hasn’t been taking his medication lately, and when he finally nabs a date with Fiona, it goes terribly, terribly wrong. Unable to dig himself out from an increasingly disturbing hole, poor Jerry turns to his dog and cat for advice, and the voices in his head begin to tumble out of control.
I am the biggest Ryan Reynolds apologist and his wide-eyed innocence and childlike wonder is so effective it allows us to see the film as his character sees the world: as an adorable, cartoon wonderland, even when it’s filled with blood, gore, and various body parts. I like my comedy to be super, SUPER black, and I’m also a big fan of kitsch done right, and this didn’t disappoint.
In attendance at TIFF, Marjane Satrapi stated that she was initially drawn to the script because it was a deeply tragic story of a sweet and fundamentally good man who starts doing really, really horrible things, but it ended up being hilarious. Every shot is imbued with a sense of whimsy, and Satrapi is the perfect director to bring together fantasy and dead-serious subject matter. Heads literally roll in our world, but in Jerry’s world, the sun in shining, the birds are chirping, and Bosco and Mr. Whiskers are telling him it’s gonna be all right–even if he has to chop off another limb or two. When the walls finally start tumbling down and Jerry’s imaginary world becomes irreconcilably intertwined with the real world, we know this story will probably end in tragedy. What Satrapi does, though, is top it all off with an elaborately silly sequence that describing in great detail would spoil. But despite the blood, guts, and gore, it’s a true Disney moment. Or, better yet, it’s Satrapi moment disguised as a Disney one.