Written by Michael R. Perry (112 pages)
The Voices is a dark comedy about a mentally ill man whose cat encourages him to kill people. That’s not the entire story, of course, because he also has a dog who tries to tell him not to kill people.
Jerry gets himself in trouble when he accidentally kills a coworker, Katie, and he fights himself (and his cat) to try not to make things worse. Of course, as the story goes on, we see how Jerry struggles with his own illness and questions why he is the way he is, thus trying to get to the route of the problem. This is a nice story because there is a story unfolding on multiple levels, like in any good story.
Act 1 is the only innocent part of the story. We learn that Jerry can speak to his cat and dog, and we see that he’s a loner who is really trying to fit in. He talks to his pets about how much he likes Katie, though Katie wants nothing more to do with him beyond their mandated time together organizing a company picnic. Before all hell breaks loose, all Jerry wants is to have some fun and be a normal person. Once a series of events unfold that result in Jerry accidentally stabbing Katie and then finishing the job (because she’s in pain), he begins a journey of introspection and trying to cover his own ass.
In act 2 he considers indulging in his worst tendencies, and this predictably makes things much worse.
So, to establish a brief timeline aka sequence breakdown:
Act 1/Sequence 1: We meet Jerry who lives above a bowling alley and works at a very bland company on the assembly line making bathtubs. His boss tells him that he told his psychiatrist that Jerry is doing very well. He also asked Jerry to help organize the upcoming company picnic alongside a few other people including Katie, an attractive girl in accounting. Jerry falls in love with Katie, and he comes home to his talking cats singing the macarena, a song which to him represents pure joy.
Sequence 2: We get to see that Katie doesn’t really like Jerry the way he believes she does. This is also because we’re very entrenched in Jerry’s perspective aka his fantasy. Jerry tries to ask Katie out, and she half-heartedly agrees but eventually stands him up. We get a very sad scene of Jerry alone at the Ohio State Fair. We feel very sympathetic for him which is important as the story gets more and more weird. After a series of events leave Katie stuck in the company parking lot with a car that won’t start while it rains, Jerry swings by coincidentally, and he offers her a ride. Everything looks great, like Katie might like him, but then Jerry hits a deer, kills it and scares Katie. She runs away into the woods, and Jerry chases after her, concerned for her well-being. She stumbles, and he accidentally stabs her. Once he realizes she’s in pain, Jerry can’t help but put her out of her ‘misery,’ killing her. Act 1 ends halfway down page 33.
Act 2/Sequence 3 (page 33-45): Jerry’s pets help him figure out what to do in the aftermath of Katie’s death. He doesn’t collect the body until people begin to notice that Katie is gone. As Jerry is out in the woods to get Katie’s body, Dr. West calls to remind him about their appointment. When Jerry reveals that he hasn’t been taking his meds, she tells him he better start taking them.
Sequence 4 (page 45- 55):As Jerry dismantles and disposes of Katie’s body, he considers taking the pills and ultimately does. We see just how far removed from reality Jerry is. His life is in shambles, his apartment is disgusting, his pets obviously don’t really talk, and they’re close to death. The whole world is a little more pale, and Jerry loses all life. Unable to cope with this version of life, Jerry stops taking the meds, and his pets celebrate him coming back to their reality. Jerry’s cat tells him he’s a killer at heart and should embrace this murderous streak. Then Katie’s severed head in the freezer tells Jerry she’s lonely and wants a friend. This sequence ends with the midpoint when Jerry starts to suspect his own mental illness’ role in the problems he’s caused. The first half of the film deals with the external plot, slowly revealing the internal conflict, and at the midpoint Jerry acknowledges what’s going on inside his mind. Still, he chooses to ignore it, but the recognition of his own instability will make his actions in the second half of the film even darker, since now he can’t claim ignorance of the root of the problem. The last exchange of the Act 2A is:
Sequence 5 (page 55 – 82): Jerry decides he must kill Lisa, another coworker and Katie’s friend. It’s already been established that Lisa finds Jerry attractive, so they go on a date. When things go well (they both open up a little), Jerry decides not to kill her. He takes her back to his childhood home, and in flashbacks we see his stepfather beating him as he refuses to acknowledge that an imaginary friend isn’t real as well as Jerry’s mother (matching his insanity) tries to kill herself and makes Jerry finish the job before the police arrive. Because we have an unreliable narrator in Jerry, it’s possible his mother didn’t ask to be murdered. Jerry and Lisa make love, and everything seems to be going all right. Things take a turn for the worse when Lisa tries to surprise Jerry at his apartment. One thing leads to another, and Lisa uncovers Katie’s severed head. Jerry ends up killing Lisa as well. Before he kills her, he says “I love you,” like he did to Katie and to his mother before killing them.
Sequence 6 (page 83 – 93.5): Jerry gets drunk and wallows in his own misery. Then he is forced to kill another coworker, Allison, when she checks up on Lisa and discovers Jerry’s knife. The walls begin closing in as the trail of bodies is impossible to notice. Jerry’s dog, always on his side, admits to Jerry that he thinks he’s crossed the line and become evil. When Dr. West calls him up for his next appointment, Jerry admits he has stopped taking his medication. He admits to killing three people, and he kidnaps Dr. West, explaining that he still needs her to help him figure some things out about himself.
Act 3/ Sequence 7 (94 – 98): Now, it’s possible I screwed this up. I know third acts are often short, much shorter than the first two at least, but it seems to be that sequence 7 should be longer than a single scene. Still, this is how I analyzed the breakdown… In this sequence, a long scene, Jerry learns, with the help of his psychiatrist, that just because he hears the voices, that doesn’t mean he has to give in to them.
Sequence 8 (page 98 – 111): Jerry brings Dr. West to his apartment where she watches him argue with his pets (from her perspective). Jerry tries not to listen to his cat who insists he murder the doctor. Then the police close in, through the help of Dana, yet another coworker who realizes Jerry has murdered in the past (his mom). Jerry sneaks into the bowling alley below, and the swat team tries to smoke him out. Jerry, though, suffers another sort of hallucination and sees Jesus bowling a perfect game. Jesus tells Jerry that he cannot be forgiven for his murders unless he himself is capable of forgiving the person who hurt him: his stepfather, Mack. Jerry then sees Mack and forgives him. As the smoke thickens, and the SWAT team enters the alley, Jerry hallucinates an extravagant performance of the macarena, complete with his happy family, pets and the three women he has murdered.
I found this story incredibly engaging because of how batshit crazy it is. I knew it was a dark comedy, but I didn’t realize how dark it was. I certainly didn’t expect Katie, the perceived love interest, to die in the first act. The first act, I think, is incredibly well-written. At first, the beginning felt awkward and uneven, but then it felt right as I got to know Jerry’s character. He is so far removed from the real world, that everything he does feels like he’s trying too hard or riding high on the drug of his own mental illness. He doesn’t see the world the way we do, meaning we see the ups and downs. The “ups” comprise almost the entire first act. We see Jerry as a lovable, dorky fellow, like Chris Pratt’s Andy from Parks and Recreation. I couldn’t help but feel so sorry for Jerry as he sits alone in the rain at the state fair while happy couples have a great time. He feels like an innocent kid who can’t understand why he feels so pained. And that’s important to the story as, later on, Jerry asks his psychiatrist as well as Jesus why he has to be the way he is. This story, despite its absurdity, humor and Jerry-committed violence, is still tragic.
Also, after having read the entire story, I see the first act in new light. We’re so deeply shoved into Jerry’s perspective, that he probably didn’t get along with Katie as well as he imagined. It’s very likely his behavior was creepy and awkward and not endearing and awkward. But as I read the story in the moment, I wanted so badly for Jerry to be happy. I think the script plays on our notions of talking animals in movies as well. When Jerry first talks to his dog and cat, it’s not creepy. It’s weird, sure, but we’ve seen talking animals before. It’s meant, it seems, to be funny. The cat speaks like we expect cat to speak, and the dog speaks like we expect a loyal dog to speak.
This is all a big buildup to set up the wild transformation of the story once Jerry kills Katie. Suddenly the animals talk about murder with ease, like it’s no big deal, and Jerry’s endearing traits become more frightening. The animals’ behavior is all explained through the fact that they are just elements of Jerry’s subconscious, as we already know.
I didn’t expect this story to explain Jerry’s backstory like it did. I assumed it would suffice to say that Jerry is mentally ill. The backstory went a step further by showing us that Jerry killed his mother, so not only do we know he’s mentally ill, but he has a history of acting on that illness. What’s quite amazing, I suppose, is that Jerry didn’t kill anyone in that time between slaughtering his mother and killing the women in the course of this plot. Maybe he did just get out of jail, or maybe he was keeping it in control for this long. He at least kept it in check long enough to make his apartment disgusting. In addition to laziness and a few other things, that takes time.
Or maybe Jerry did kill someone else, but he simply forgot. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that his subconscious has helped him forget some of his past murders. Based on the killings we do see, however, it seems like Jerry only kills people he loves, or thinks he loves. So it’s unlikely he killed someone and forgot about it unless he genuinely didn’t have any strong feelings for that person. So I guess I find it unlikely that he did kill anyone else, meaning he also almost twenty years (depending on when the story was written) between murders. That makes this more tragic. Jerry is unfit for this world and vice versa.
This story takes a man and makes you root for him up until a point. We recognize the innocence within Jerry, and then we’re forced to watch him slaughter a series of women. It’s troubling to say the least. The only way to present this type of story is to make it somewhat humorous. The world of this character, as he sees it, is inherently absurd and twisted. While there might not be anything big to take away from this story, it does seem to be an important depiction of mental health, though on the extreme side of things.
This story takes a serious issue and makes it something we might be more comfortable talking about, even if it’s only within the context of this story, by making it absurd.