Awhile back, crazy canuck called me out on my lack of Cronenberg movies. He was right, I am behind in seeing the works of David Cronenberg. I’ve seen Videodrome and actually own the really cool Criterion edition that looks like a Betamax tape. I reviewed Videodrome way back when I started this blog but I took it down because I didn’t feel like it was my best work or said anything useful about the movie. I’m actually pretty intimidated by Cronenberg, his films have so many layers. So many fleshy, bloody layers.
So I finally saw his 1986 movie, The Fly, which is actually a loose remake of the 1958 Vincent Price movie of the same name.
Jeff Goldblum stars as eccentric scientist Seth Brundle.
He meets Ronnie (Geena Davis), a journalist for Particle magazine, a woman who sports the best pink-coat-black-beret combo ever.
He awkwardly and creepily convinces Ronnie to come to his isolated lab to show her his invention, a device that can teleport matter.
Fun fact! The appearance of the telepods was inspired by the engine cylinder of Cronenberg’s Ducati 450 Desmo.
The machine works but only with inanimate objects. Seth hasn’t figured out how to successfully transport flesh. Ronnie starts to work with Seth, documenting his work, including his failed attempt to transport a baboon. They quickly become lovers.
Seth successfully figures out what his program needs to transport living flesh. He and Ronnie celebrate but then Ronnie is distracted by a mock-up sent by Particle editor (And her creepy ex) Stathis Borans (John Getz). Seth gets jealous, then gets drunk, and finally decides to teleport himself. He doesn’t notice the fly in the machine.
He emerges unscathed and soon notices the beneficial effects. He’s stronger, more agile, and incredibly virile. You can tell because he starts walking around in his briefs way more than he used to.
There are some downsides, though. These weird, coarse hairs start growing out of a wound he had prior to going through the teleporter. He becomes incredibly manic, aggressive, and starts craving nothing but sugar. He dumps Ronnie and starts acting on his urges. He gives a guy a compound fracture while arm-wrestling and picks up a bar skank.
Seth realizes something is wrong when he develops skin lesions and starts losing his fingernails and his teeth.
He realizes that his computer programming was confused by the two separate organisms in the telepod and spliced his DNA with the fly’s DNA. Ronnie sees him after a month and is shocked by his physical deterioration.
As he develops more fly-like characteristics, like vomiting digestive enzymes on food before eating it and the ability to walk on ceilings, Ronnie realizes she’s pregnant with his baby. But she doesn’t know if it was conceived before or after Seth went through the telepod. She’s horrified by the idea of delivering a maggot baby. Ronnie begs Stathis to get her an abortion but Seth kidnaps her because he thinks she might be carrying the last of his humanity in that baby.
He plans to have all three of them go through the telepods so they can be fused in a mega-family. Ew. Stathis shows up to rescue Ronnie and there’s this amazing scene where Seth vomits on Stathis’ arm and leg and he’s left with these dissolved little nubbins of flesh. The fight finishes Seth’s transformation into fly. There’s nothing recognizably human about him. Stathis saves Ronnie by shooting the connection between the telepods and Seth comes out, a human-fly now fused to a machine. Ronnie shoots him.
This movie is just so visceral. You watch it and get more and more disgusted with what’s happening to Seth. Cronenberg has stated that he meant the film to be a metaphor for aging and disease in general. It was released in 1986, only five years after AIDS was first recognized, so people viewed it as a metaphor for HIV and AIDS. I can see why people thought that, especially because Seth’s lesioned skin resembles that of people who have Karposi’s sarcoma, a rare cancer that’s associated with AIDS.
When I was watching it, I actually thought I saw a critique of masculinity. In the beginning, Seth is awkward, brilliant and nice (But not a Nice Guy). After going through the telepod, he becomes more traditionally masculine–he’s stronger, more aggressive, and sexually confident. The behavior is taken to the absolute extreme and is what drives Ronnie away. Although, in the end, he loses everything including his humanity.
The Fly is one of Cronenberg’s most successful films and won an Academy Award for makeup and hairstyling. I enjoyed it but you can tell why it was so successful, it just lacks that subversiveness that Videodrome has. I really enjoyed it but you can see why mainstream America was willing to accept it. In the end, I think I like Videodrome a little better, just because it feels so sleazy.
And I think my favorite Jeff Goldblum is when he’s Dr. Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park.