This week you might have seen me on Twitter recommending an indie horror movie called Pontypool (based loosely on the book Pontypool Changes Everything, by Tony Burgess) . No, it’s nothing to do with the Welsh town. This Pontypool is in Ontario and is the site of a strange viral outbreak that turns the residents into slavering, blabbering, murderous, er, zombies.
Yes, it’s a zombie flick, sort of. Except the key here is that it’s language itself that’s become infected, passed on through speech. The film has the best tag-line ever ‘Shut up – or die!’, a difficult option when the story centres around radio ‘shock jock’ Grant Mazzy who hosts Pontypool’s breakfast show.
On a cold, dark, winter morning reports start coming in of strange assaults and riots breaking out. They, and we, can’t see what’s going on, only hear it and repeat it, and broadcast the news of it, hence the virus spreads.
Clearly the film is about more than the obvious ‘radio station under siege’ setup. It’s a satire of ‘talk radio’ and the media age, its ability to literally spread panic as well as to inform. It’s about the nature of meaning and how it can be lost through repetition and juxtaposition. Er, and it’s a metaphor for unthinking mass hysteria – I mean, I think it is.
Probably. Who knows, really? It’s cracking fun though and will mess with your head.
Do you have to understand everything about a movie or a book to enjoy it? Probably not.
There can be something enjoyably unnerving about that sense of being a bit ‘all at sea’ with the grey matter wobbling in your head like an alarmed jelly fish. You might ask yourself what was the author on when they wrote this? Or, more commonly, I don’t get it! Am I just a bit thick?
In this spirit here’s a quick guide to books I ‘enjoyed’ but have no idea what they were about. Books with that dreamlike, incoherent logic that make you think someone might have slipped something hallucinogenic in your tea.
Anything by Haruki Murakami
I’ve often wondered if books in translation read in an odd way because they were written like that or if there really is something ‘lost in translation’. I was still gripped by the trippy, compelling language of Kafka on the Shore. There’s a boy and a weird stone in the woods that has a bizarre effect on some school kids, and jazz and a quest.
Brain-wobble rating 3/5
Roberto Bolano – 2666
There’s a missing lecturer, and some other lecturers are trying to find him, and some nasty murders – in the way only South American murders can be nasty – and some washing blowing on a line that is symbolic of loss, as the lecturers’ search for meaning is futile, like the futility of violence.
Brain wobble rating 4/5
Anything by Philip K Dick.
The daddy of modern sci-fi was obsessed with parallel or alternative realities. In Flow, My Tears, The Policeman Said, (even the title is a bit bonkers) Jason Tavener is a famous TV personality. One day he wakes up to find all records of his existence erased and he’s a wanted man in a police state. Is Jason going insane? Is there a conspiracy against him? Does it matter? Life’s an illusion anyway isn’t it? Like the illusion of fame and the cult of celebrity…er..
Brain-wobble rating 5/5
Mikhail Bulgakov The Master and Margarita
Banned for decades, it’s an allegory of the dangers of communism, no, Bolshevism, no atheism… wait…it’s about a dark ‘master’ magician, possibly the devil, well it might be because Jesus is in it too, in flashbacks, and there’s a cat that’s a woman…
Brain-wobble rating 3/5
Never mind, rest your weary, wobbly brain matter and look at what the reviewers have said about these classics.
The Village Voice said of Flow, My Tears, ‘Dick was many authors; a poor man’s Pynchon, an oracular post modern, a rich product of the changing counter culture…’
Of 2666 The Financial Times said ‘the arcane allusiveness of Pynchon…the acute yet stylised noir of David Lynch…yet ultimately the books most significant forebear may be Moby Dick, that symphonic masterpiece..’
Hee, hee! They didn’t have a clue what they were about either!
Now we can all feel better about feeling like a stupid, wobbly invertebrate-head!
*Note: The wobbly jellyfish rating may or may not be imbued with additional symbolism as a nod to the ‘zombie’ genre’s obsession with brain-eating and Pontypool’s ‘brain’ bug. It could just be a lazy simile/metaphor. I’m not telling.