David Cronenberg. Man. I love that guy. His movies will mess with your head. While I’ve seen a number of them, this was my first time watching The Fly. Consider my head messed with.
Posting on the run tonight. Late AND on the run. Geez. Saturdays. Hopefully my rambly thoughts about The Fly make sense! If they don’t, feel free to kick me in the comments.
The Fly – USA, 1986. Dir. David Cronenberg. Starring Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, John Getz.
Whenever I watch a Cronenberg film, I get sucked in to wanting to talk about more than just how scary it was or how cool the make-up is. It’s no different with today’s movie, his 1986 remake of The Fly. The Fly is the story of a man who while experimenting with teleportation accidentally splices himself with a fly. While the make-up is seriously cool and gross (it did win an Oscar for best make-up after all), there’s so much more going on than just a man transforming into a fly. A disgusting, gooey, man-fly. Ew.
While his recent films have moved away from the horror genre, Cronenberg’s earlier films practically defined the subgenre of “body horror” – where the horror is not the result of some outside Other, but originates in the body itself. His films from the late 70’s (The Brood, Rabid) portray this horror as being the creation of the female body. In the early 80’s, it was an invasion of the mind by some technological product of society (Videodrome, Dead Zone) . By the late 80’s, the mind itself was the source of horror.
He’s not always the most popular with female critics being that it is often the female body that is the subject of this horror, a monstrous feminine. Take for example something like The Brood where the monsters are literally a brood of monstrous offspring born of their mother’s rage.
By the time we get to 1986 however, a shift has happened. It is man’s mind itself that, through the use of some technology, creates the horror. The Fly is the story of a scientist, Seth Brundle, who in his quest to escape the limitations of his physical body turns himself into the monstrous.
The Fly is such a successful horror film because it allows the audience to identify with the Jeff Goldblum’s Seth Brundle. The first forty minutes of the film are not a horror movie, they’re a love story about Seth’s blossoming relationship with Geena Davis’s Veronica. As we watch Seth and Ronnie fall in love, we’re taken in by how sweet and earnest they are. It’s this love story that turns the final horror to tragedy.
The horror story begins when Ronnie leaves Seth to deal with an ex-boyfriend and in his drunken jealousy, Seth decides to perform his final experiment – teleporting himself – alone. If The Brood is about the horror of a woman giving birth without a man, The Fly could be about the horror that is a man giving birth without a woman. Either way, they’re kind of both about the horror of birth.
Anyway, Seth steps into the pod and the computer fails to distinguish between Seth and a fly that has also entered the pod. Rather than separating the two, it decides to merge them. Seth is no longer human nor is he insect, he is something new. He is Brundlefly. (There’s actually a good bit of humor throughout The Fly. It’s just often of the slightly darker variety)
Cronenberg often displays a paranoia towards technology in his films and The Fly is no different. It is Seth’s desire to overcome the flesh and the computers complete dissociation from the organic that turns Seth into the monstrous hybrid that is Brundlefly. As time passes, Seth become less and less Brundle, more and more Fly.
While the pods may be in appearance womblike, the computers separation from the organic makes this not about a fear of a feminine monstrous, but a fear of what results when the feminine is removed. Ronnie’s dream (I should probably not spoil this but trust me, as a lady this possibly one of the worst birth nightmare sequences I’ve seen) is a result not of her body being the source of the horror, rather her body is invaded by the horror that Seth has created.
As Seth progresses further towards Brundlefly, he becomes more aggressive, more physical, more sexual, more masculine. We feel for him because we have been given so much time to identify with him and we watch in horror as he continues to degenerate. We want Ronnie to help him as he cries to her in terror over what he is becoming, but help is not really what Seth wants. It still is all about control and in the end what he really wants is to become more than human, he wants to transcend the flesh.
In the end, The Fly is about the horror of the male mind and what happens when technology displaces humanity.
It’s also about some crazy good make-up effects. And how terrifying birth apparently is.