The Fly (1986)

Directed by David Cronenberg

960

The Fly is delightfully fucked up.  That should be the extent of this review.

It’s a film I’ve meant to watch for a while, and it did not disappoint.  There is humor, gore, incredible practical special effects, Jeff Goldblum and a tremendously glib (is that the right word?) protagonist who becomes the villain and is almost conscious of that transformation the entire time, willing it to happen.

Seth Brundle (Goldblum) is a passionate, perhaps psychotic, scientist who is on the cusp of creating real world teleportation.  He brings a reporter, Veronica (Geena Davis) to his apartment to see his invention, but he doesn’t want her to run out and write a story on him.  Brundle wants recognition, but he wants the right kind of recognition.  Actually, I take that back.  It’s not clear if he wants recognition as much as he wants validation.  When Brundle brings Veronica to his apartment/lab, he gleefully demonstrates the teleportation process (using her stocking), and he bathes in her own bewilderment.  When she announces her plan to write a piece on him, however, he’s surprised and annoyed, even though he must have known that would be the result of her excitement.

Brundle soon convinces her to write a longer piece, a book, on him and his invention.  The culmination of this story, he says, is when he will teleport himself from one of his telepods to the next.  The Fly sets up this story as a buildup to this moment, when Brundle’s machine will teleport Brundle himself, but of course we also know that this movie is called The Fly, meaning that teleportation moment must happen much earlier.  And it does.

Brundle struggles with how to teleport human flesh as his computer isn’t sure how to pull it apart and put it back together.  In one gory moment, Brundle teleports a baboon between machines only to find it writhing in the telepod, having been turned inside out.  Jesus, I’m still thinking about just how horrifying this moment is.

But to Brundle and even to Veronica, it’s not horrifying so much as it is disappointing.  By this point Veronica has become pretty invested in Brundle, not just for the story but romantically as well.  When Veronica leaves to attend to her manipulative, abusive ex-boyfriend (who is also her editor), Brundle drinks and fumes to the remaining baboon, commenting on his frustrations towards Veronica.  When he successfully teleports the baboon, Brundle decides to go ahead and experiment on himself.  This is when the fly gets caught inside the telepod, and they are teleported together.

Before watching this film, I expected Brundle’s transformation into a fly to happen very quickly, and the rest of the film would be the fallout from this transformative deformation.  Instead, the change happens gradually.  At first, Brundle reaps the advantages of his new condition.  Unaware of the fly, Brundle believes the teleportation process has filtered out his own deficiencies, making him physically stronger in every way.  He’s basically Peter Parker after getting bit by the spider.

But Brundle begins his downfall even before becoming the fly.  Because of this new condition, Brundle is basically constantly on, as if he’s permanently caffeinated to the extreme.  He urges Veronica to get into the machine so she can be just as ‘super’ as he is, but when she refuses, he leaves her.

Brundle then heads down to a local dive bar, already showing acne-like signs of his impending transformation, where he challenges a man to an arm wrestling match and breaks his forearm in half.

Over the next few days, perhaps weeks, Brundle continues to decay though without realizing it.  His face basically explodes and begins rotting, yet he’s still riding the high of his huge ego.  One day, though, his body begins breaking down, and Veronica comes to his aid, undeterred by his narcissism.  As Brundle learns that he is becoming a large fly, he finds a way to take pride in this transformation, touting how he will be the first of a kind, truly unique.

Even as his teeth and fingernails fall out, Brundle pours over his computer with his newest observations.  At one point, though, he tells Veronica that the insect side of him will soon win it out and that he can’t be trusted not to harm her or anyone else.  This proves to be true when Brundle nearly kills her after learning that she’s pregnant with his baby (of unknown genetic DNA) and planned to get an abortion.

When Veronica’s boss/ex-boyfriend, Stathis (John Getz) comes to her aid, Brundle spews his fly-like stomach acid (apparently that’s how flies eat their food, by dissolving it in acid), melting one of Stathis’ hands and feet.  After this moment, Brundle completes the transformation into a fly (in a brutal, awesome sequence similar to the transformation scene in An American Werewolf in London).

He then tries to teleport himself and Veronica together, hoping the process will fuse them together, making him more human and less fly-like, but when Veronica escapes, the process fuses Brundle the fly with the other telepod.  He crawls out of the telepod and gestures for Veronica to shoot him.  After a moment’s hesitation she does.

The Fly really draws out Brundle’s transformation so that in every new scene, you anticipate he will look more rotten, but you’re just not sure how far the film will go.  It goes pretty damn far, and the results are gory and spectacular.

 

Seth Brundle as a character, though, is very easy to root for at the beginning of the film, making his devolution harder to watch.  Maybe it’s just because he’s Jeff Goldblum, but I think the audience wants to like Brundle.  It also helps that he’s a bit of an outcast, referring to his own lack of success with women romantically and to his devotion to his invention.  Brundle is down and out, basically, and when compared to Veronica’s slimy boss, it’s hard not to root for Seth.

But then he becomes a monster.  At first he’s excited by his newfound power and strength, and watching him discover his new self is endearing, as he quietly goes about a gymnast’s routine to his own surprise.  But then it quickly goes to his head, revealing the true egomaniac at the center of his character.

It’s kind of amazing to watch Brundle become less and less likable while Stathis becomes more and more likable, almost (or maybe successfully) redeeming himself by the end of the film.  The protagonist and antagonist simply switch roles, with Veronica there to suffer at the hand of one of them almost the entire time.  She remains the constant, then, while between the other two men, one is always there to hold her down and the other is there to lift her up.

So maybe you can find themes of what it means for a woman to be held back by a man, whether in terms of career or within an abusive romance (of which Veronica has two).  Of the men tormenting her, one tries to reduce her to nothing more than a sex object and the other tries to turn her into a monster.

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