Interview: Marjane Satrapi

The Voices is not a film that is going to leave everyone happy. Admittedly, few horror films do. They aren’t the genre you’d usually slap with the label “feel good,” but despite a cheery bright colour palette, an eerily ideal fictional town of Milton, and a Tim Horton’s commercial aesthetic, The Voices seeks to sully its own sense of fantasy with a hard dose of horrendousness.

It’s a story about Jerry (Ryan Reynolds), a cheery packer at a plumbing outlet, whose attempts to woo a co-worker (Gemma Arterton) ends in a killing spree.  The voices in question are the ones he hears from his house pets, who fight for his moral conscious like the supporting cast of a Disney cartoon. I’ll let you take a wild guess which sort of furry friend is an advocate for homicide. 

Satrapi’s autobiographical Persepolis broke a lot of ground and gave us a lot to chew on, but The Voices, a horror comedy, and a wrenching one at that, may not have any ambition to carry that brand of weight. Grotesque, offensive, dark, this is Satrapi’s fun F-you movie, and certainly shocking. The Voices is the most colourful feel-bad movie in a while. It doesn’t seem to care what you think, though despite that, I spoke with Marjane about what she thinks of the film, what scares her, and if what, if anything, we can take away from The Voice’s sentiments towards mental illness. And cats for that matter.

Marjane Satrapi

Dork Shelf: You’re not exactly a cat person are you?

Marjane Satrapi: I love cats.

DS: You love cats?

MS: I love cats, especially this one. I love this cat more than anything else. Between this cat and the dog, the most fun is the cat. The dog is like an American Republican. “Let’s be good boys, let’s call the cops.” Like a redneck. The cat is kind of fun.

DS: Fun, and an advocate of murder.

MS: Yes, exactly! At the same time, this cat is all the time saying ‘kill it kill it’ and he never kills himself, whenever you see him he’s just eating cat food. I have cats, I am very much a cat person.

DS: So those who see this film should not see it as hostile to cats.

MS: No noo, in fact it is this cat that will make everybody laugh. He’s the very outstanding character. A cat can be your friend if he or she wants to be.

DS: Cats are more independent? 

MS: Of course they are! Dogs are always your slave. I don’t want to have slaves. I don’t want to be nobody’s slave and I don’t want to have slaves either. 

DS: What drew you to horror?

MS: Well I didn’t have any plan, I never have any plan. I liked this script so much that it opened the whole world to me. I know how I like to choose a script, because when I see it, I see the film in front of my eyes or I don’t see it. Here it was really appealing to me.

DS: What about the script stood out?

MS: I loved the amorality of it. At one point he says, “If God exists and he’s all-knowing, he must be okay with me doing this.” It’s a really really good question to ask. If God controls everything, why does he let Satan live? Why let people do bad things when we can all be nice? (Spoiler) That is amoral because despite what he does, he ends up in paradise with everyone else. And I loved that. (Spoiler)

DS: Do you feel we’re supposed to sympathize with Jerry?

MS: That was my whole goal. Here I have a serial killer, and now I want everyone to like this serial killer until the end. That was the biggest challenge, how to make this man be likeable. We can make him likeable if we don’t turn him into a sexual pervert, we can like this man understand that he is just a child, just imprisoned in this body of a grown-up. We can love this man if we understand that he is sick, that he doesn’t do this on purpose. He’s not going to murder. It was the biggest challenge. You have Ryan Reynolds, and he’s the one who makes that happen. Keeping at the same time this fearfulness and this naiveté, you have to be very subtle to make that.

DS: It did feel like he was part of an unstoppable mechanism. The first murder was a genuine accident, and you keep wishing it just didn’t happen.

MS: Exactly, and it’s always like that. In the mountain, you have a snowball effect. It starts and you cannot stop it anymore. He tries to make everything have an equilibrium in his life, and he doesn’t manage to do it. He just doesn’t. 

DS: Do you generally watch a lot of horror films?

MS: Not at all. Extremely scared of horror films. Especially when I had to choose my DOP, he has done lots of movies, and many horror films. I had to cut down the sound, concentrate on the light to see what kind of light he does. I can film a horror film, I know what’s going on, I’m in there, but I really believe in it. I watched a huge amount as a child, turn off the lights, watch them and be shit-scared, but then at a certain age, after 20 I started freaking out around horror films. I didn’t watch anymore.

DS: You know too many things happen in the real world.

MS: Exactly, this is the problem. As much as the story of Satan and aliens, but serial killers? They really do exist.

DS: Is it easier to sympathize with someone when the story is in their perspective?

MS: I wanted to make it contrary. I wanted to have the point of view of, “this is a frightening guy, myself, me, the psychopath.” You have to be with him to understand what’s in his mind. He sees everything much better. I was with a friend who saw the film and they said they only thing they wish they had his pills to stop reality, so they can see Paris the way he sees Milton.

DS: Do you feel this film makes any sort of cynical comparison between mental illness and serial killers?

MS: No, because it is a film, and not a documentary, and also a comedy. (Spoiler) You see the ending of the movie, you see this reverie with all of them dancing. (Spoiler) I think if there is something, if we have to take a serious side, is that an ill person is an ill person. He kills people and that’s bad, but they don’t do it on purpose. That’s the message to take from it. But it’s not a documentary, and people can misunderstand whatever. They can watch, I don’t know, Mickey Mouse and misunderstand that stuff. I’m always interested to know who is the monster, because the monster, after all, is usually just a human being. I want to know what happens that a human being becomes a monster. Even the people I hate the most, the most, evil, I can never forget that they were once two-years old and cute. The most important isn’t just to say, oh, they are bad people, but to understand what’s going on.