It’s 2017 – the world prides itself in the advancements of technology and the proliferation of the use of the Internet, especially in the popularity of social media networks. Given that the world is seemingly getting smaller because of these advancements, you’d think that communication around the world would be easier. But that isn’t the case; though pretty much the world values these things with very high regard, the use of communication is now being weaponized by governments, politicians, and even regular citizens (read: ‘netizens’) to spread misinformation, fake news and, for a lack of better word, to troll well-meaning Internet and social media users.
These issues did not exist in the year 2009, when Pontypool (dir. Bruce McDonald) was first released, but somehow, watching the film in 2017 made it all so relevant to today’s current political and social landscapes. In the film, the very [English] language that people use everyday becomes a virus, making people turn into zombie-like creatures, and that on its own is a pretty great metaphor for what is happening today. The whole film revolves around words, language and the semiotics that are applied to them. It may get very confusing, even absurd, for many viewers including myself, but the power of words that is portrayed in the film is a very powerful statement with regards to what is happening around us.
Personally, I did not really enjoy the experience of seeing the film as a whole. It had moments that piqued my interest, with some even making me amused or some giving relief from the tension with the funny tone, but everything else felt a bit jarring. It might be the point for director Bruce McDonald to have made it feel that way – that the audience must at some point feel what the characters are feeling as they are stuck in the radio recording booth. But regardless, it wasn’t something that was easy to engage or be compelled with. It may also be so because the characters themselves weren’t as relatable (compared to other horror film characters), all the more that they would not really be people that you would root for to survive the apocalypse. Maybe it just so happened that they were stuck there because of circumstance, and the audience is just asked to play and tag along with it.
Regardless, the set-up of them only being stuck in the radio booth for majority (if not the whole) film was rather interesting, as it provides a different perspective from any other zombie apocalypse film. Furthermore, the set-up somehow acts as the on-the-ground view on an apocalypse, and shows the desperation of characters to get out of their situation. This also acts as the starting point of the main narrative of language being the virus in the first place, highlighted even more because they are at a place where the use of words matter and are more important than they are as it is broadcasted to a wide range of people.
Again, I commend the timeliness of the film, because it brings what is confusing and a plot that is hard to invest on to a higher level, and with deeper meaning. This is exactly the point of Hawkins in her article entitled Sleaze Mania, Euro-trash, and High Art: The Place of European Art Films in American Low Culture. In this article, she talks about paracinema, and how the different films featured here have changed in meaning and connotation throughout the years, from being seen as low-brow/low art to that which is high art. Hawkins talks about some horror films, such as Freaks, which were originally deemed as a trashy or useless film, but later on regarded as an art film. In a similar fashion, this could be applied to Pontypool. The initial release of Pontypool in 2009 did not receive favorable reviews from the audiences, but now that I think about it in the current context of the world in 2017, it makes so much more sense and can actually be applied to society. Its in these changing times, the context, wherein the meaning of the text (pretty much like semiotics, as proposed by Roland Barthes) also changes and is made much more meaningful. As Hawkins says, “viewing/reading the films themselves—even the trashiest films—demands a set of sophisticated strategies which, Sconce argues, are remarkably similar to the strategies employed by the cultural elite.” There exists to be a small delineation between the high art and low art, and that gives way for texts, such as films, to change in their meaning through time.
Pontypool is a prime example of how cinema and film is made profound through the passage of time, in this case, seemingly faster than other films. But more thant that, it serves as a good representation and metaphor of today’s issues in terms of politics and the use of words as weapons, especially for the people who do not comprehend or utilize it as well as others.
Joan Hawkins, “Sleaze Mania, Euro-trash, and High Art: The Place of European Art Films in American Low Culture”