The Fly

The Fly by David Cronenberg could hardly be called a remake of the 50s movie of the same title. Though it shares the same basic premise with its predecessor this is where all similarity ends.

Conceptually original and visually stunning, the Cronenberg creation stands out as one of the most visceral and nightmarish movies that came out of the 80s and has since become a classic example of the biopunk subgenre. As with other biopunk movies the central plot device is genetic manipulation and its mind-bending ramifications, to whit, a ghastly transformation of the movie’s hero Seth Brundle.

Review by SAndman
June 24, 2010

Director: David Cronenberg

short story: George Langelaan screenplay: Charles Edward Pogue and David Cronenberg

Jeff Goldblum as Seth Brundle
Geena Davis as Veronica Quaife
John Getz as Stathis Borans
Leslie Carlson as Dr. Brent Cheevers
Joy Boushel as Tawny

Released: 1986

Seth Brundle: Yeah, I build bodies. I take them apart, and put them back together again.

At a party Seth Brundle, an eccentric physicist, runs into Veronica Quaife, a journalist. After a brief introduction he tells her that he is onto a revolutionary discovery. Curious she lets him take her to his apartment/laboratory where he shows her a pair of identical man size pod-like devices.

He explains to her the pods are actually teleporters. She is not convinced and to prove that he is telling the truth he borrows one of her stockings and presently has it teleported from one pod to the other. Amazed Veronica wants to interview Seth but he refuses saying that he is not ready to reveal his experiment to the public.

Frustrated Veronica leaves but the next day Seth turns up at her office and offers to her to follow his experiment on condition she publishes her article only when he thinks the experiment is finished.

The trouble begins when Seth learns of Veronica’s editor and her former boyfriend Stathis. Cynical and crude, Stathis wants to manipulate Veronica into relationship. She rebuffs him but not before Seth convinces himself that she was only taking advantage of him so that she could write her article. Jealous and drunk, Seth decides to teleport himself unaware of a fly which has found its way into his apartment and wound up sharing the pod with him.

He completes the transportation successfully. However, it becomes obvious that Seth is somehow changed. He showcases instances of supernatural strength and stamina. And very soon far more sinister aspects of his metamorphosis become apparent.

The originality of The Fly is in that it shows us the hero’s transformation as a process, physical and emotional with each stage more grisly than the last. Surprisingly, as our hero sheds, literally, the vestiges of humanity and turns into something else, part human part insect, he exhibits something of a scientific detachment with regard to his condition. He coolly observes the changes on his body and ponders their ramifications. And though his behavior becomes increasingly erratic it is clear that he does not think of himself as a freak of nature or something to be shunned and feared.

Seth Brundle comes across as somebody who driven by the desire to attain the impossible forsakes all considerations and norms. In that he is a typical Cronenberg hero – a maverick hell-bent on seeking out extraordinary even ghastly experiences regardless of all the consequences. Only when he realizes that the ultimate demise of Seth the human awaits at the end of his transformation does he exhibit very human despair and fear.

Cronenberg’s visuals are outrageously fleshy and mesmerizing. There is a haunting quality to the scenes showcasing Seth’s newly acquired physiology, and though they overflow with bodily fluids and discarded body parts, there is never a sense of showiness. For all its ghastliness, The Fly is not just another gore-fest. Rather, it is a study of a man losing its grip on his physical self and his subsequent alienation.

Jeff Goldblum is at the top of his game as a driven scientist turned a modern day Faust. His take turns Seth Brundle into a memorable character of a brilliant yet deeply flawed human being. Geena Davis as Veronica comes across as somebody caught up in events. Her character provides a common sense perspective to Seth Brundle’s mind-bending experience.

Since its release The Fly has spawned a sequel and some of its lines and motifs have become a staple part of pop culture. Released at the time of the height of HIV scare the movie inadvertently became a metaphor for the the disease and its imminent course.

Interestingly enough, Cronenberg opposed such a narrow interpretation. In his view, it is a tale of death and dying, and physical decay which accompanies it. In truth, The Fly plays on many levels. As far as science fiction movies go, few films have since managed to capture so chillingly, and to such haunting effect, man’s (acquired) ability to manipulate his own nature.

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