Pontypool follows the story of Grant Mazy, where an ordinary day at the radio station turns awry after people start turning into mindless zombies. There is a virus that can be transmitted through the words in the English language. The members of the station attempt to cure the disease by making words strange again.
Pontypool has got to be one of the most confusing (if not the most confusing) films I’ve watched. On that note, I don’t have to fully understand it to enjoy the film. I found the film concept really refreshing and unique. I really found the idea of a virus spread through words really, really cool. Because the virulence of the virus is not biological by any means, the film reminded me of the story of the Ring. The ‘virus’ of the demon girl spread through watching a tape, reading a book about her, or watching a film. The virus mutates – it develops as vectors to propagate the virus evolved. In the Pontypool, the virus didn’t limit itself to one word. It infected words as people were using them. It became hard to identify how exactly the virus could be spread and made it harder for them to contain the virus.
The film played a lot on the feeling of isolation. The setting was in an isolated broadcasting station and because the scene was underground the characters felt even more isolated from the rest of the world. Aside from this, because of the fact that English was the medium that the virus could be passed on the characters were isolated from each other because they were not as fluent in French.
Pontypool can be categorized under as a hybrid between Hawkins’s high art and low art. Pontypool dabbles in low art with scenes that do not, or at least appear not to have, any underlying meaning. There was the scene where Laurel-Ann vomits blood. This is an conventional scene in horror films that need no further explanation. This allows Pontypool to retain some kind of lightness and allows the film not to feel too overwhelming with metaphorical and abstract ideas.
Pontypool also dabbles in high art. High art are films which use indirect methods which allows for metaphors and more abstract images. They require further analysis to be understood. What’s great about this film is that it has an underlying message that it tries to get across. The words that we use are taken for granted until we no longer understand its meaning. Especially words such as love, honey, and other terms of endearment that are meant to convey the deepest of emotions. Repeated usage of the words make it easy to say them as a reflex. These words come up empty after much usage – the meaning of words muddled until they become meaningless. And in my opinion, this is a recurring theme that can be seen throughout the film. For example, Ken Loney gathers reports from a high location and not a helicopter and yet the broadcast station inputs helicopter sounds onto the broadcast. People, including Grant, believed that Ken was actually on an actual helicopter. This shows how people take things as they are without understanding how things actually work.
I think the film makes an interesting point, especially today wherein people with the media and social media, can say anything they want and people take what they say for granted. No further probing is done on the topic. The media has the ability to make illusions seem like reality. Then we can see how the narrative can be controlled and people turn into mindless zombies who seem not to possess the ability to think critically.
To me what is very exciting about this film is that ‘strangeness’ is the cure to the disease. In Wood’s othering – the ‘strange’ is usually rejected. However, in Pontypool, words are made strange and what is commonly accepted is rejected. It is not simply to accept things for what they are but to understand. It is not to just accept the status quo. This strangeness could be a metaphor. In the scene with Grand and Sidney, Grant discovers the ‘cure’ to the disease wherein words should be made strange again. He ‘cures’ Sidney by saying ‘kiss is kill’. Metaphorically this could mean to think critically or to truly understand something is to see it from another point of view and not just one facet of the term. If you continue to say something repeatedly it will eventually lose meaning, this is the same with everything else. If you see the world through only one lens or perspective, your viewpoint will remain severely limited.
To be honest, I was a little disappointed with the film at the beginning because I am a fan of zombie films and while technically Pontypool is a zombie film it does not feel like one. I did like the film because it encouraged critical thinking and it was quite fun to watch.
Robin Wood, “The American Nightmare: Horror in the 70s.” Horror, The Film Reader (Routledge, 2002).
Joan Hawkins, “Sleaze Mania, Euro-trash, and High Art: The Place of European Art Films in American Low Culture.” Horror, The Film Reader (Routledge, 2002).