I’m coming at you this week with the latest installment in the Halloween horror movie series with David Cronenberg’s 1986 cult hit: The Fly.
The Fly is directed by David Cronenberg and stars Jeff Goldblum as scientist Seth Brundle who figures out the science behind teleportation. One night, he goes to a party and meets Veronica Quaife played by Geena Davis. Brundle tells her about his discovery only to find out she is a reporter. Quaife takes the story, at least what Brundle lets her get away with, to her editor and ex-boyfriend Stathis Borans played by John Getz. Borans dismisses the idea of teleportation and tells Quaife she’s being tricked. Brundle then makes Quaife an offer she can’t refuse: He suggests they go in together. He offers her the exclusive story, to document every aspect of it to write a book about the teleportation. This partnership blossoms into a romantic relationship, but things go awry when Brundle gets drunk one evening and teleports himself without Veronica there to help and ends up getting his genes spliced with a fly. This is cool at first because it’s like Brundle gets super powers, but it soon turns into horror as Brundle’s attitude is the first to start changing, followed slowly by his body.
The Fly is a remake of the 1958 undertaking by Kurt Neumann. I personally think that Cronenberg’s is a superior work because it deals with more complex issues and does so in a much more real and grotesque way.
The film is actually an expansion on the book by Franz Kafka The Metamorphosis, which depicts the tale of family after a man wakes up one morning as a bug. The book is ambiguous about the details of the bug, so Cronenberg uses his own adaptation for his horror film.
The Fly takes the basic idea of a genius being able to teleport objects and convolutes everything by adding in human emotion. While adding human emotion, it takes a very scientific approach and takes out the moral compass. There is a constant battle of science and religion in life. Science is great, but it needs some sort of moral guidance. Moral guidance comes from religion, so the two are always in battle against one another. This film addresses why in a way that shows what is possible if science is left to run rampant and do whatever it wants without any moral direction.
Cronenberg throws a romantic relationship into the mix, but never once does he drop the ‘L’ word. Nonetheless, the relationship does what it was designed to do and adds a moral compass to the whole mess. Brundle doesn’t seem to really have a moral compass until the very end where he is the least human. He originally brings Veronica to his place to show off and try to get laid. Then he offers her a mutually beneficial deal. Next he sleeps with her, but assumes it had no relationship ties. After he gets mad at her, he deceives her and performs the teleportation on himself without her there (Veronica seemed way less angry about this than I would have expected). After this success, we get a glimpse of Brundle actually caring because he admits his fault, but he also just plays it off as “I was drunk and agitated.” Because that’s a fair excuse. But he gets even more angry as the film goes on. We see Brundle’s attitude start to change, though he denies it. He then claims he is broken up with Veronica and brings home a new girl to try and get her to go in the teleporter. She doesn’t, but the damage of sleeping with another woman is already done. At last though, after Brundle has transformed into the abomination of Brundlefly, he finds out that Veronica is pregnant with his baby. Brundlefly breaks into the doctor’s office right before Veronica changes clothes to have the baby aborted. This is when we see the most human and normal thing happen. Brundlefly says to Veronica she can’t abort the baby because it is the last true piece of Seth Brundle. Brundlefly is a gross combination that is neither Brundle nor fly, but the baby could be all Brundle. It would be his last bit of legacy and connection to reality. That is Brundle’s most human moment, but he arguably isn’t even actually Brundle at this point.
It’s an interesting take on The Metamorphosis that hadn’t really been explored before. Of course, we can’t have a Cronenberg movie without his textbook mark of body horror.
Cronenberg does some pretty gross stuff in this movie. The first scene that is really gross is the first attempt at teleporting a living animal with a baboon. The baboon successfully goes from one pod to the next, but it ends up turned inside out, but somehow still alive. Its absolutely disgusting!
It gets worse though. The inside out baboon can be detached from the viewers psyche, so Cronenberg steps it up a bit with the actual change the Brundle goes through. We get a scene where Brundle is staring at his reflection and trying to shave, but it hurts every time he tries. He then tries to bite his fingernail, but instead of a smart strip of fingernail coming off, Brundle’s full fingernail just comes off. Thus beginning the visual transformation that Brundle notices. The view notices though that Brundle starts looking a bit different after his break up with Veronica. He appears to start developing a rash on his face from that point on. It takes a while for the nasty fingernail scene though.
The Fly actually deals with some complex issues though. The whole metaphor of becoming something different because of a relationship isn’t new to the screen. I feel like this movie just tries to handle this subject matter in a way that can gross out even the most dedicated of horror fans. At it’s core though, The Fly is making a couple of important statements. There is the whole morality in science thing I talked about earlier, but there is also a really interesting thing that can be said about the transformation itself. I think the transformation is really a kind of warning in a way. Despite the whole moral science stuff, it’s a warning about jealousy in relationships. Brundle could have waited will Veronica made it back to help him with the experiment of himself, and to double check that his second baboon was actually totally healthy. We still don’t know if the second baboon actually lived a long time after the event or if something bad happened to it.
Regardless, Brundle was struck by jealousy which has been known to kill relationships. His jealousy ultimately caused Veronica to run away from him and back into the arms of her ex, with whom he was jealous of in the first place. Jealousy changes people and the literal physical change of Brundle into Brundlefly is just showing what the potential outcome of jealousy can do to a person’s character.
Though at its core The Fly is really gross, I think it makes some pretty important points. It says things that have been said before, but in a whole new way. It shows that horror is about more than just being scary and gross. The Fly is really strong in that category, but the level of disgust and revolt that the movie creates might turn some people off making it a little to exclusive. Overall, I enjoyed it and would recommend it if your stomach can handle it.