I try to start every one of these posts off with some clever anecdote. How did I come about this film? How does it fit into the larger scope of my project or, pretentiously enough, into my life? It can get a bit tiring contextualizing everything, swaddling it in a blanket of introductory paragraphs and personal anecdotes. Perhaps sometimes it’s okay to simply enjoy something without such profound context?
For a while now I’ve been struggling to come up with that context for “The Fly.” I don’t think I have one other then that, in the course of doing what I’ve been doing, I watched it and it was mind-meltingly awesome. It was late at night. I was glad to find it was on Netflix. I found it to be both disgusting and beautiful in equal measure and I would absolutely watch it again and again. I’m not sure what else there is to say here.
I think Jeff Goldblum gets a bad rap these days. He is an eccentric character, that’s for sure, and since everyone’s seen his shtick in “Jurassic Park” and “Independence Day,” that eccentricity is easy to make fun of. I’ve always liked him unabashedly without the ironic overtones. Seeing “The Fly” made me feel good about that choice. Goldblum is astounding in this movie. Director David Cronenberg perfectly utilizes Goldblum’s unique style of geek chic. Seth Brundle is a sweet eccentric, a tragic overreacher who loses his humanity without really meaning too. His romantic rival, Stathis Borans, steals all the qualities we normally attribute to the mad scientist who creates a monster because he foolishly misunderstands the way the world is supposed to work. Stathis is creepy, perverted, egomaniacal, a voyeur, and he just looks like he’d have a great evil laugh.
Yet Stathis gets to survive the film in tact (I mean, minus a horribly mutilated arm and leg and a bit of a knock on his ego). And sweet, unassuming Seth Brundle – who is, we realize as both we the audience and Veronica Qualfe (Geena Davis) fall in love with him, capable of so much love and compassion in spite of his incredible naiveté – turns into this horrifying creature, all pockmarked skin and matted hair, and we have to watch as he comes to term with the fact that he is losing touch with his own humanity. Really, he has to come to terms with the fact that “Seth Brundle” ceased to exist the moment he was disintegrated in the first telepod. What appeared in the second telepod was not Brundle – in that pod, we saw the birth of Brundlefly, a new creature that imitated Brundle at first, but which, over time, matured into a horrifying mix of man and fly that mirrored externally what was brewing inside our erstwhile protagonist’s mutating skin – a genetic stew that was never meant to exist.
In a way, Seth doesn’t deserve what happens to him. Cronenberg knows that. It is why the affecting deterioration of both Seth and of his budding relationship with the beautiful Veronica works so well as a vehicle for fear of disease and aging. No one asks to get cancer. No one deserves the ordeal of AIDS. And no one can avoid forever the possibility that, with time, they might forget who they once were and become someone else, in mind and body, entirely. “The Fly” plays on these fears, the fears that even if we are kind and don’t deserve it, our bodies and minds may betray us and we may may have to ask the ones we love to do the unthinkable – we may have to ask them to run from us before we harm them even more; we may have to ask them to put us out of our misery; we may have to ask them to carry on with a disease we have given them without meaning to, even after we are gone (there is nothing scarier in this movie then the notion that Veronica is pregnant with something that could, depending on when conception happened, be a perfectly healthy baby, the perfect imitation of sweet Seth, or could be a horrible fly mutation that might disembowel and infect the lovely Geena Davis from within her own womb. Shudder…)
I have never experienced these things in my own relatively uneventful life, thank heavens, and so coming up with some funny or profound anecdote about how “The Fly” relates to my life any more than that it is a movie I saw which scared the bejeesus out of me would seem disingenuous. It would be reaching. It wouldn’t feel right as a writer or as a human, in some way, you know? I, like anyone else, have a fear of disease and aging; of losing control of my body; of losing control of my mind. None of us wants that to be us – but it could be us. So let’s not make this overly personal, eh?
“The Fly” works and holds up to this day because it can be personal to anyone. Love a grandparent? A mother? A father? A significant other or child? What would you do if something like this happened? What would you do if it began happening to you? Would you “be afraid… be very afraid…” If you’re human, you would.
I leave you with some incredible behind the scenes features I found on YouTube. Some takeaways. Special effects artist Chris Walas put on a career-defining show in this movie that still astounds.
Geena Davis was hot in 1986, and she makes that horrible ‘80s hair work for her like no one else I’ve ever seen. (Seriously, when I woke up this morning, “Teen Witch,” which came out in 1989, was on ABC Family. It was like a frizzy, artfully sculpted nightmare.)
This movie’s pretty gory. I’m not sure I could handle the rest of David Cronenberg’s body horror oeuvre. I’m still getting over some of the imagery in this movie. (yes I saw the monkey-cat deleted scene. That’s just not right, man.)