Tuesday, June 24, 2014

#1,408. The Fly (1986)

Directed By: David Cronenberg

Starring: Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, John Getz

Tag line: "Be afraid. Be very afraid"

Trivia: Initially, Mel Brooks didn't want people to know he was a producer for the film. He feared that, if they knew he was involved, people wouldn't take it seriously

As I mentioned in my write-up of 1958’s The Fly, that movie and this 1986 David Cronenberg-directed version tell the same basic story (of a scientist who has figured out a way to teleport objects from one place to another), yet differ in how said experiments affect their lead characters. Whereas Andre Delambre, the central figure in the 1958 version, simply trades body parts with a housefly, Cronenberg’s Seth Brundle, played by the always reliable Jeff Goldblum, experiences a physical change that turns him into a human fly, and it’s the way the movie presents this transformation that makes 1986’s The Fly a sci-fi / horror classic.

Seth Brundle (Goldblum) has been working on an experiment that will change the world, and at a press event hosted by his sponsor, Bartok Industries, he promises reporter Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis) an exclusive on the story if she will accompany him back to his laboratory. Veronica agrees, and is amazed to find Brundle has created a teleportation device that can actually send inanimate objects from one “Telepod” to another. 

Before long, Brundle even manages to transmit a living creature (a baboon) through the Teleporter, and, determined to show it will also work with a human subject, climbs into the Telepod himself one evening. 

The good news is that Brundle survived the experiment. The bad news is he wasn’t alone in the Telepod when he made his journey; a common housefly was in there with him. As a result, Brundle’s DNA fused with that of the fly’s! 

At first, things seem fine: Brundle appears to be stronger than before, and tells Veronica (with whom he is now romantically involved) that he believes the teleportation “purified” his body. But before long, he begins to change, both physically and emotionally. In short, he starts acting like a fly. 

To make matters worse, a disturbed Veronica, who has turned to her editor and former lover Stathis (John Getz) for help, learns she is pregnant with Brundle’s child. But was the baby conceived before his teleportation, or after? Will her unborn child be normal… or a monster?

Jeff Goldblum is terrific as both Seth Brundle, the slightly neurotic scientist on the verge of a major discovery, and “Brundlefly”, the name he gives himself following his ill-advised trip through the teleportation device, at which point he starts the slow process of turning into a fly. In fact, it’s the actor’s sometimes-frantic turn as Brundlefly, combined with the film’s exceptional special effects, that makes The Fly such a fascinating motion picture. 

In true Cronenberg fashion, we bear witness to many of the physical changes Brundle undergoes, a few of which are difficult to watch (Brundle himself finally realizes something is amiss when his fingernails begin to fall off, but for me, the most gruesome image is that of Brundlefly vomiting enzymes onto his food, which breaks it down into a form he can more easily digest). From his early films (like Rabid) through to such movies as Videodrome and The Brood, Cronenberg established himself as a master of “Body Horror”, altering the human form in ways that can be downright terrifying. With Brundlefly, the director has created his masterpiece, a human / insect hybrid that, by the time the movie ends, has undergone an incredible metamorphosis.

While the primary message of 1986’s The Fly is very similar to that of the 1958 original (“Toying with the laws of nature can lead to disaster”), Cronenberg’s film takes things a step further by challenging our perception of what it means to be human. As difficult as it is to watch Brundle’s physical devolution, it is equally as painful to see his identity slowly slip away from him, an eventuality he has no control over. A man turning into a fly is bad enough; a brilliant scientist reduced to his most basic survival instincts, losing his ability to reason and even his moral judgment along the way, is an altogether different tragedy.


Unknown said...

This is one of my favorite movies of all time. I'm glad your review is as brilliant as the movie, it totally does it justice. What I like most about The Fly is its ability to horrify without relying on the usual tactics of a horror movie. Like the greatest horror movies, the Fly transcends conventions, clichés, and even genres to become a monster of its own. Not only is the direction superb, but the acting, the writing, the music, the sound and visual effects all come together in perfect harmony to fully realize David Cronenberg's vision into a masterpiece.

David said...

A few months ago I was listening to the Planet Macabre archives and Billchete gave this movie a pretty short shrift so I'm glad to see that good old Doc appreciates it for the classic it is!

An awesome movie with brilliant characters, transcendent practical effects and one of the most emotional affecting horror film plots of the 1980's in my opinion.

Also I think Juan's observation that this film is horrific without employing the usual horror tropes is extremely astute. Almost as though Cronenberg was channelling Franz Kafka as much as he was the B-movie source material. It's as tragic as it is horrifying.

- David

James Robert Smith said...

A brilliant recreation of the original film. Cronenberg was the perfect man to do this movie.