The holiday season is a time for coming together, whether it be with family or friends. In light of this spirited time of unity, I thought it’d be delightfully contradictory to review a movie that depicts one man’s literal coming apart. David Cronenberg’s 1986 sci-fi horror flick “The Fly” is just that, in all of its gooey glory.
Based on the 1958 film of the same name, Cronenberg’s remake follows journalist Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis) as she begins dating Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum). It becomes apparent that Veronica doesn’t have much luck with the fellas. Not only is Brundle something of an oddball scientist obsessed with developing a method of teleportation, but Veronica’s editor and previous boyfriend Stathis Borans (John Getz) refuses to accept her rejection. To make matters worse, Brundle accidentally fuses his DNA with a fly’s during an experiment with his telepod, and then unwittingly impregnates Veronica with his fly-human baby. This sci-fi soap opera takes a turn for the monstrous as Brundle’s humanity rapidly deteriorates and Veronica must decide what to do with her unborn child before it is too late.
“Most people would give anything to be turned into something else.”
Jeff Goldblum, in his pre- “Jurassic Park” days, delivers a disturbingly convincing portrayal of the film’s lead, in part due to his lean and malleable physique. Cronenberg’s use of an allegorical device is evenly transmitted through Goldblum’s performance, as he enacts the gradual breakdown of a naive egocentric who could just as easily be under the influence of heroin as he is molecular fusion. The process of this breakdown takes up the bulk of the film, beginning with his discomfort in his own skin to his literal shedding of it, and ending with his complete loss of self. One cannot help but be reminded of the downward spiral experienced by hardcore drug addicts.
This motif is purported even further as Veronica laments over the condition of the creature growing inside her, bringing to mind the disheartening issue of the effects of drugs on unborn children, and the even more unsavory topic of whether or not an abortion is in order. As much as “The Fly” revolves around Brundle’s metamorphosis, the film is also careful to explore its consequences on his makeshift family, making this work one of Cronenberg’s most compelling. Although the film’s story is unrealistic in its sci-fi horror imagery, such imagery deeply reflects our own dark social and personal conundrums. Brundle’s horrible transformation into the “Brundle-Fly” sharply touches upon our own innermost anxieties over losing control of our lives, and ultimately being unable to turn back from the mistakes we have made, or the monster we have become.
“I’m an insect who dreamt he was a man and loved it. But now the dream is over…and the insect is awake.”
While many of Cronenberg’s films boast complex characters, interesting subject matter and a solid musical score, “The Fly” is defined by its breathtaking makeup effects. Be warned: this is not a film that can be watched as one drinks egg-nog. Brundle’s transformation is a feat that demonstrates how far the boundaries of movie effects can be pushed, let alone my gag-reflex. This movie is certainly not for the faint of heart, yet is nonetheless as captivating as it is repulsive. There’s even something rather pitiable about the way poor Brundle disintegrates; in his final monstrous incarnation, audiences still hold out hope for whatever shred of humanity may remain buried behind the mounds of mutated flesh. This conflict between sympathy and repugnance is another great effect of the film, as it is evoked masterfully under Cronenberg’s direction.
For its effects, atmosphere and overall execution, “The Fly” one of Cronenberg’s strongest films, and my personal favorite amongst his repertoire in the body horror genre. It’s damn near perfect, and accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do: induce retching while telling the sad story of a man becoming a monster. Whether you view this film during the holidays or choose to wait long after you’ve thoroughly digested your Christmas dinner, it is certain that after watching you’ll never look at a fly the same way again.
My Rating: 9/10