The film Pontypool deals with an interesting thought about words. Pontypool was another movie dealing with zombies, however this particular film had its own take on the zombie movie. What makes this film interesting is how the virus is spread, instead of being spread through the typical flesh to flesh contact of biting or even through an air-borne virus, the virus was translated through the use of certain words, particularly some of the most common words in the English language.
Now the film Pontypool isn’t really a direct film, by that I mean it’s not an open and shut movie, there’s a lot of room for interpretation. Whether or not the directors intentionally intended for it to be interpreted in a profound manner is still up for debate.Now high art is defined by people who are supposed to have a more refined taste whereas low art is normally defined as art inclined to appeal more towards the masses or to have a more commercial appeal. Now all of this is very subjective, some people could view Frozen as a cinematic masterpiece and view it as high art and while others may call films such as Citzen Kane, Solaris, and Vertigo as low art and all points could be equally valid. Add to this the subjectivity and preference of film watching and what are the set rubrics for a good film as well as the changing times and it makes it almost impossible to be objective about this. So for the sake of simplicity, I’ll just give my personal take on whether or not the film Pontypool can be considered as the high art that it strives to be.
Well first thing you have to start with is of course the premise. It would be a lot easier to make a zombie film using the traditional and conventional method of spreading a virus. In the film Pontypool however they decide to take a different approach and play on the power of using language. Next thing you would have to notice is how seemingly controlled the movie is, controlled in the sense that there is a zombie apocalypse yet we see very little horror of the zombie apocalypse. The film takes place only in their radio station and revolves only around a select group of people. The viewer is left to imagine how bad things are on the outside. This makes the viewer imagine what could be happening to the outside world instead of just spoon feeding us imagery. Aside from that the use of imagery in the film is also give priority. There are several instances in the film where imagery is just mentioned and it is left for the viewers to interpret the importance or lack of importance of that film. Aside from that there is a portion of the film where the characters are speaking French to avoid the virus, the very use of multiple languages in a film can be seen as a high-art move and makes it seem more cultured and refined. And probably the strongest argument for Pontypool being high art is that to be fully comprehended it needs to be watched several times. It’s not to say that it’s Mulholland Drive or anything like that but Pontypool seems to be intentionally confusing it’s viewers at some level. Take the ending credits for example, you were done with the movie and there was already closure then suddenly the ending credits are there to confuse you even more. The film really was made to confuse it’s viewers and be watched while playing close attention.
The distinction of high art vs low art however is not exclusive. Films can be both high art and low art, and I think the best films actually are. Good films manage to be high-art without losing their low-art origins. Take for example films like Taxi Driver. The film Taxi Driver for me is exciting enough to be enjoyed by most people since the plot is moving smoothly and you can understand it and be entertained by it without fully interacting with the movie. Yet I find that every time I watch Taxi Driver, I seem to have a new insight about the movie and a more profound understanding of the characters. It’s an entertaining film but it’s also very much philosophical. That is where I feel Pontypool was lacking. I personally felt that it tried to hard to be a high art film that it forgot to be a good film. Pontypool was very much high art in many ways but it focused on being high art too much that it forgot the critical need for a low art appeal.