Feb 06

“The Voices” Film: Negative Stereotype of Psychosis

The lead character (Ryan Reynolds) in Marjane Satrapi‘s The Voices, a not-meant-to-be-realistic film that many critics see destined for cult-versus-mainstream status, represents a negative stereotype of someone with psychosis.

To be more specific, his “voices” lead him to extreme violence. But, the truth? As Dr. Fredric Neuman summarizes about the incidence of violence with psychotic disorders (Psychology Today), “(t)hey are both common—but occur together uncommonly.”

Eric D. Snider sets up the plot of The Voices:

Here is a pitch-black psycho-horror-comedy to restore one’s faith in the ‘What the eff did I just watch?’ genre. Set in a wholesome Aminerican town (the praises of which are sung in an opening theme song [!]), the film stars Reynolds as Jerry Hickfang, a smiling, awkward, not-quite-all-there fellow with a low-level factory job. He’s just out of prison on a work-release program and has a regular appointment with a court-ordered psychiatrist (Jacki Weaver), but he seems harmless enough. He goes through life in a bit of a daze, attended by imaginary butterflies, and has a cute crush on Fiona (Gemma Arterton), a beautiful brunette from the accounting department.

Also, his cat speaks to him. Abusively, hilariously, and with a Scottish accent. Mr. Whiskers harangues Jerry the same way that Mrs. Bates belittled Norman, and to similar effect. (His dog talks, too, but as you’d expect, he’s supportive and optimistic.) Jerry’s mother also heard voices, and Jerry has medication that silences them. But when he’s medicated, his bright, TV-like world turns dark, and he gets lonely. The only real problem with having Mr. Whiskers talk to him is that Mr. Whiskers, being a cat and a natural killer, has some violent suggestions.

And here’s a wild guess: no court-appointed shrink will be able to stop this train wreck from happening.

Also starring, by the way, is Anna Kendrick as another coworker of Jerry’s.

Jerry Hickfang’s Mental Illness

Peter Debruge, Variety: “a seriously disturbed schizophrenic.”

Rex Reed, New York Observer: “…a tormented Tony Perkins at the Bates Motel, re-imagined by Saturday Night Live…”

The Cat and Dog

Mary Sollosi, Indiewire: “Jerry’s pets serve as the angel (sweet Bosco) and devil (the manipulative Mr. Whiskers) on his shoulders, and while it’s clear to the audience that their dialogue and personalities are really just warring fragments of Jerry’s tortured mind, Jerry’s awareness of this fact is questionable, or maybe he just doesn’t want to believe it.”

Selected Reviews (And More About the Plot)

Amy Nicholson, LAWeekly: “The Voices is a perfect film that’s hard to watch. Jerry will kill, and he’ll kill characters we like. He thinks it’s by accident. Forced into his eyes, it’s hard to tell. At its Sundance premiere, dozens of people walked out at each death.”

Chuck Bowen, Slant: “The problem, beyond a general hideous un-funniness, is that the film’s premise is deeply repulsive. For about half of the film, Jerry’s insanity is meant to be kind of cute. For the other half, he’s butchering the women who work with him, brutally, in scenes that are staged as horror set pieces, and are performed by the female actors with an according intensity.”

Rex Reed, New York Observer: “Stylized direction, aided by a nuanced script, allows us to see Jerry’s disintegrating world from his own haunting perspective, and Mr. Reynolds’ cheerful face makes his descent into madness completely unique. In case you question the film’s send-up of optimism turning the color of an exploding blood bank, there is even a musical number. It’s whimsical, terrifying, insane and not to be missed.”