The Fly – body horror, Cronenberg style

The Fly is true blue SciFi with teleportation machines, socially inept brilliant scientists, and talk of DNA fusion, made exciting and hair-raising by the excellent turn by Jeff Goldblum as Dr. Seth Brundle. Brundle is trying to develop a teleportation machine that works well on inanimate objects but fails to work on living things. He meets a reporter, Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis), falls for her and convinces her to see him at work. The teleportation finally works and Dr. Brundle decides to try it on himself, ignoring the fly buzzing around in the pod. At the other end comes out a new rejuvenated Dr. Brundle with one big difference – he is now a fusion between man and fly! We then see a slow descent of the shy scientist into aggressive predator, and then into a hybrid being that slowly descends into becoming more and more fly like! Along the way Veronica is shown caught in a tug of war between her attraction and empathy for Brundle on one hand and a revulsion for the fly/human he has now become. She eventually has to run from him as she discovers that she may be carrying his child (watch out for David Cronenberg playing gynecologist!). She is helped by Stathis Borans (John Getz), her editor and ex-boyfriend, who goes from creepy stalker to a heroic figure.

Throughout the film, Cronenberg plays fast and lose with our emotions and expectations, as the good turn ugly and bad, while the bad redeem themselves. There is a heavy dose of the body horror that he pioneered – what can be more horrifying than getting another organism so deeply embedded in your genetic material that it can never be ousted? And what can be worse than all of one’s humanity getting completely swamped by the animal instincts of that most reviled of insects? The human begins to lose all organs and body parts the insect does not use or need – I was reminded of the recent Black Swan as Brundle began to grow bristles and lose his finger nails! The film progresses into the “not for the squeamish” territory towards the final minutes as the director pushes the limits of the transformation of Brundle.

The film is buoyed by the excellent performance of Jeff Goldblum. His transformation, both physical and mental, has to be seen to be believed. The man raises the film to a superlative level. He is ably assisted by Geena Davis, who goes from peppy smart reporter to a deeply emotionally torn woman with equal facility. For me the film raises speculation about whether Cronenberg is really a Luddite at heart (like most of Hollywood) who only sees a catastrophic and apocalyptic future when science tries to reach for the skies. Of course the film is not scientifically correct – but I can forgive the fact that a film made in the 1980s could have ignored the fact that millions of microbes probably were living inside Dr. Brundle but did not lead to any transformation of the man into microbe as he teleported!


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