Pontypool: Shut up or die


“Don’t Speak. Don’t Scream. Shut Up or Die.”

How’s that for a movie tagline?

Adapted from the novel Pontypool Changes Everything by Tony Burgess, this low-budget Canadian horror movie is based on an interesting premise: language can be a vector for a deadly virus, so communication becomes the mode of transmission of disease.

In an interview, director Bruce McDonald stressed the victims of the virus were not zombies and called them “conversationalists”. He describes the stages of the disease as such (potential spoiler alert):

“There are three stages to this virus. The first stage is you might begin to repeat a word. Something gets stuck. And usually it’s words that are terms of endearment like ‘sweetheart’ or ‘honey’. The second stage is your language becomes scrambled and you can’t express yourself properly. The third stage you become so distraught at your condition that the only way out of the situation you feel, as an infected person, is to try and chew your way through the mouth of another person.

Charming, but what did you expect from a horror flick? A moral behind it all? A commentary on society?

Well there just may be some of that. Some bloggers and critics see in this movie a metaphor for the corrupt nature of language in our society: “We’ve become a society of texters and Tweeters, who cut words down to symbols and letters.  The smiley rules, and we go on breaking down the language until there’s little of use left.”

Yes indeed, we might just end up destroying our kind because our children can no longer spell. The end of civilization through the destruction of language. How poignant. And absurd.

Ironically our morning radio host hero is among the uninfected.  Can we surmise that those who think and analyse their language before transmitting information (as it is his job to do) are immune to this disease? Is the film recognising that this quality has become rare and commendable in a society in which everyone blogs, tweets, and facebook-posts their every thought? Perhaps.

Then there’s the praise of silence.  From our blogger-critic friend again: “In a world wholly drowned in white noise, there’s precious little quietude left for us.  A little bit of silence will save us, it says, and maybe we can shut off our cell phones, radios, TVs, and mouths, and enjoy the sounds of silence for a while.”  

A little more silence, a little less killing, I can handle that. I say we shut off MTV and FOX News first.


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