In polite society we’re not allowed to talk about certain topics: depression, sexual issues, that our child might be an asshole or that we don’t understand what “supporting the troops” means in a complex system of economic and political warfare. The reason is very simple – discussion of these topics bucks the assumption of normality. Normal people aren’t depressed, are sexually healthy and functional, think our children are angels, and love our country and our troops. Of course, this is all bullshit created to exclude people with abnormal ways and means.
How do we fight this bullshit? In the best case, we present constrained arguments that convince with passionate logic. The best case, nine times out of 10, fails miserably, which leaves us with two options. Option #1 – throwing restraint out the window and sometimes logic. Not the best option. Option #2 – lampooning with vigorous amounts of farce and subtle compassion. Also not the best as it can often be too subtle to be effective, but at least leaves us with good entertainment.
Option #2 is the central tenant of Ryan Reynolds’ 2014 film The Voices. Reynolds’ Jerry suffers from schizophrenia, hearing voices from Bosco (dog) and Mr. Whiskers (cat) that encourage him to ignore his reality in favor of the much preferred existence as a suave, if misunderstood, Lothario instead of a clueless nobody who lives in his own filth. The film begins as a dark comedy that makes a sharp and sudden turn into psychological horror as Jerry begins to kill, first as an accident and then increasingly intentional as he ignores his meds and listens, instead, to the voices.
While laced with the comedy of Jerry chatting with his pets or the disembodied heads of his victims, The Voices is also concerned with painting Jerry as more than just a one-dimensional monster we can laugh at. Certainly, we’re not getting an academic-level understanding of his psychosis, but we do see Jerry in psychiatric therapy and, if ever so briefly, enjoying a real, tender human connection with Anna Kendrick’s character. All of this gives us a picture of Jerry as a severely troubled man who can be treated but cannot be relied on to take that treatment.
And that’s a huge issue presented by The Voices – Jerry’s treatment, his pathway to normality, is conditional on his acceptance of the treatment. Beyond the psychiatric sessions, Jerry has no system of support that would ensure he is safe and, more importantly, sane. Mental disorder is a mental or behavioral pattern that makes it difficult, without treatment, to function in ordinary life. Jerry does a great job at pretending, so good he easily clears the institutionalized low hurdles to pass as a “normal.” The Voices gives us no answers (nor should it), but does provide us with the question, however subtly presented.
Why do we prefer to ignore that which impugn the construction of our polite society?
Musical accompaniment: Suzanna Choffel