The Fly (1986)

Viewed June 2nd

 

When a fly accidentally accompanies scientist Seth Brundle in his most recent teleportation experiment, he gradually transforms into the monstrous "Brundlefly." 

In many of David Cronenberg's films, the sense of horror famously revolves around a meeting between the human body's viscous fragility with modern technology. Think of the gun-hand in Videodrome, the bioports in Existenz, the fetishization of automobile wrecks in Crash, or the gynecological instruments for operating on mutant women in Dead Ringers. In the concluding moments of The Fly, we see a similar flesh-technology merger. However, most of that film's "body horror" revolves around something else: a merger between human and insect. This strikes the viewer differently, perhaps more utterly horrifically. Although revolting, imagery of cyborg mergers between flesh and technology explore a perverse, yet widespread desire in human beings to transcend the body through the artificial creations of man. Insects, though, are another story. They are truly other, a rival for dominance on Earth with an intelligence that manifests through markedly different means. We didn't create insects and can't relate to their psychology. As is remarked in The Fly, insects have no politics. They have no empathy, their drives stem from something else. Therefore, when--through some of the great gross-out special effects makeup in film history--we watch a man become a fly, it's arguably more utterly horrific than, say, the imagery of James Woods merging with the television in Videodrome. In Videodrome, Cronenberg plays with the eroticism of the cyborg, the fascination of becoming part-machine or "The New Flesh." The emergence of Brundefly, though, is something else, it's more strictly repulsive. And this relationship--the deep horror at man becoming insect--allows for a different type of story. The utter horror one feels for the loss of humanity to an insect subjectivity becomes tragic in a way that few other Cronenberg films feel. Now in order to truly achieve that sense of tragedy in The Fly, the viewer would need to really mourn the loss of the on-screen humanity. Otherwise, the idea of tragedy would be academic or, worse, preposterous. But, luckily for us, Jeff Goldblum as Brundle delivers. Backed by Howard Shore's doomed, Bernard Hermann-esque score, Goldblum presents a living, breathing, oddball human character, one of the most indelibly memorable in the Cronenberg filmography. When we see his lover played by Geena Davis mourn for him, trying to bring back the old Seth, it's the stuff of tragedy. Now, obviously, it may sound overblown to describe a movie that most know as little more than garbage exploitation in those terms, but, if you're in the right mindset, it's all there.