Friday, 23 December 2016

Comedy & Laughter: The Voices

Comedy in films and other media is subjective, everyone finds different things funny and everyone has a unique sense of humour. Physical comedy, the humiliation of others, gags, and slapstick are just some examples of branches of comedy that people may find funny. However, what is funny for some may be distasteful for others. Dark comedy is humour that focuses on death, murder, and other dark, grim subjects that are often considered depressing and morbid. Using this dark subject matter as a base for comedy and laughter can rub some people the wrong way, but can also lead to stories and films that explore a deeper meaning while appealing to those who understand that type of comedy. Marjane Satrapi's 'The Voices' (2014) is an example of a dark comedy that is spliced with horror and elements of tragedy.

Figure 1. The Voices (2014)

Despite this film featuring popular actors such as Ryan Reynolds and Anna Kendrick and receiving relatively positive reviews from critics, this film was only released to a select few cinemas before being released straight to DVD, "Unfortunately for 'The Voices', that admirable attitude to be what its screenwriter and director wanted it to be without compromising anything for the sake of success, rendered it, and in the eyes of its distributors was too risky and bold for them to take a chance on it...Its perfectly balanced weirdness proved to be far too outrageous for a market that likes to pretend it's adventurous," (Aguilar, 2016). It is a shame that this film did not receive more attention and praise as it was able to combine opposing genres while also showing some insight to the mind of someone who has a severe mental illness and a tragic past. It was able to focus on dark subject matter with a sad backstory while still weaving in some comedy.

The film flip flops between comedy and horror. One moment the characters are dancing in a conga-like to pop music dressed in a Pepto-Bismol pink uniform...and the next moment the main character is hacking apart bodies and stuffing the pieces into tupperware containers. This unusual film is about a man, Jerry (Ryan Reynolds) and his life with, presumably, schizophrenia. While he seems to operate like an average person at work, excluding being overly enthusiastic about packaging bathtubs, he is anything but ordinary. When Jerry returns home, he talks to his cat Mr. Whiskers and his dog Bosco which isn't particularly unusual until his pets begin to talk back. We learn that Jerry is meant to be taking medication to control his voices and hallucinations, but has not been doing so, and it is hard to blame him, "There's a great sequence about halfway through 'The Voices' in which Jerry gives in and takes his meds as ordered, waking up to a world he doesn't want to live in. He has no friends without the voices in his head/pets," (Tallerico, 2015).

Fig 2. Bosco, Jerry, and Mr. Whiskers

This is one of the many reasons why this film is so unusual, even though Jerry is murdering people and keeping their severed heads in his fridge, it is really difficult to dislike him. The audience feels bad for Jerry, he is afraid of being alone which is what perhaps caused him to accidentally murder Fiona (Gemma Arterton), a girl that he liked at work. Even after he keeps murdering people, it is hard to blame the guy as he is clearly very disturbed, lonely, and ill. Even his psychiatrist at the end of the film, despite being kidnapped and brought to Jerry's filthy, gore-ridden house, begs police to not harm Jerry because he is ill. While at first we do not know much about jerry, the viewers later get brief flashbacks of his childhood with an abusive father and schizophrenic mother who pleads for young Jerry to slice her throat with a piece of glass. There is no wonder why this man is troubled, "Jerry is a man forced down a road of violence by things that he cannot control. He is a unique serial killer in that he so wants normalcy, companionship, and happiness," (Tallerico, 2015). His past has led him to feel lonely and abandoned, which is why he yearns for companionship and perhaps why he attaches his hallucinations onto his pets and victims. This strange way of achieving companionship is what leads to the more comedic elements of this dark film.

The majority of the humour in this film, arguably, comes from the interactions between Jerry, Mr. Whiskers, and Bosco. Mr. Whiskers often comes out with crude statements and deadpan one liners about anything from Jerry being insane, to saying Bosco deserves to get hit by a mini-van. On the other hand, Bosco is a goofy character that tries to comfort Jerry and shouts 'intruder!' any time someone knocks on the door and reciprocates to Mr. Whiskers with comments such as 'sick, disturbed cat'. As the severed heads of Jerry's crushes and workmates begin to accumulate in his fridge, more personalities and voices enter Jerry's head, adding to the banter between him, his cat, and his dog. It is the delivery of the dialogue that makes it humorous while also knowing that all of these discussions are really just figments of Jerry's imagination. It is also amusing to see the awkward social situations that Jerry is in while interacting with different individuals at his job. Seeing some of Jerry's hallucinations paired with the darker horror content is also funny. For example, Jerry goes from seeing Fiona surrounded by butterflies, to 'accidentally' stabbing her to death (as he is apologising to her), to then seeing her again surrounded by flowers and sunshine. The choice of music also adds to the humour, such as the song that Ryan Reynold sings himself after his character burns to death - 'Sing A Happy Song'. Jerry's victims, parents, and Jesus joins in on the song and dance during the end credits.

Fig 3. Fiona 

It is difficult to put into words how or why this film, or any other film is funny to some because it is up to the viewer to decide if it is funny to them or not. However, to some, The Voices combined dark comedy with horror perfectly to create a tragic story of mental illness, isolation, and loneliness that is unique and refreshing. This film perhaps attempts to show people that there is often more to people than what can be seen, and sometimes people, especially with mental illness, are not in control of their actions and do not mean to do bad things. This is unusual when compared to films such as Mary Harron's American Psycho (2000) or other films relating to a mentally ill person or a psychopath that turns into a serial killer. Unlike most other films, Jerry remains somewhat innocent as we see he is not in control of his actions as his inner thoughts battle between deciding what is right and what is wrong. "Satrapi smartly inverts expectations by making Jerry's unmedicated existence the one that's eerily wholesome, day-glo, slightly trippy. The first moment when his diabolical, Scottish-accented cat, Mr. Whiskers, gives him the idea of slaughtering a colleage, the film's creepy-funny tone leaps into focus - you'll either run with it, or recoil and not want to be there," (Robey, 2015).

Aguilar, C. (2016) Why 'The Voices' is the Truly Original Film Starring Ryan Reynolds You Can Watch Right Now At: Accessed on: 22/12/2016
Debruge, P. (2014) Sundance Film Review: 'The Voices' At: Accessed on: 22/12/2016
Lyne, C. (2015) The Voices At: Accessed on: 22/12/2016
Robey, T. (2015) The Voices: 'creepy-funny' At: Accessed on: 22/12/2016
Tallerico, B. (2015) The Voices At: Accessed on: 22/12/2016

Illustration List:
Figure 1. The Voices [Poster] At: Accessed on: 22/12/2016
Figure 2. Bosco, Jerry, and Mr. Whiskers [Film Still] At: Accessed on: 23/12/2016
Figure 3. Fiona [Film Still] At: Accessed on: 23/12/2016