“It’s cleaner on the inside”
Welcome to Blog Post 300! It’s taken me a while to get this far (I should be on Post 500 by now, but I am rather lazy!), but as I’m here, I’d like to talk about one of my favourites films of all time…David Cronenberg’s ‘The Fly.’ It’s his magnum opus, his greatest box office hit, and one of the great sci-fi horror romances of all time! It features an incredible performance by Jeff Goldblum, a riveting soundtrack by Howard Shore, and some of the most grotesque scenes in cinema history. Not only that, but ‘The Fly’ is the epitome of a remake done right. It expands and evolves on the original in ways that modern remakes could learn more than a few things from…Plus, it’s 30 years old this year!
The story of the film is pretty simple: Seth Brundle (played by Jeff Goldblum) invents a teleportation device. He meets and falls for Ronnie Quaife (played by Geena Davi, a journalist, who also falls for him. The teleportation device can only transport inanimate matter, until Goldblum teaches the computer more about ‘the flesh’ after being inspired by intercourse with Ronnie. However, Ronnie rushes off one night to deal with an ex-boyfriend, Stathis Borans. In a fit of jealousy, Brundle teleports himself in his pods. Unbeknownst to him, a fly flew into the pod. The two beings merge, and Brundle’s life takes a turn for the better…and then a turn into a monstrous human-fly hybrid…
“I must not know enough about the flesh myself”
‘The Fly’ encompasses a multitude of genres, which perhaps explains why it is Cronenberg’s biggest box office success. It’s body horror, it’s science fiction, but above all, it’s a love story. Definitely and defiantly, it’s a love story in the Cronenberg mould. There’s blood, gore, broken bones, pus, hands being dissolved by acid…but even more penetrating than the body horror is the relationship and chemistry between Brundle and Quaife. The first shot of the film centres on their first meeting, and right away there is a sparkle in their eyes. You understand there is something between them (that’s probably helped by the fact that Goldblum and Davis were a real life couple at the time). Their love grows, but as Cronenberg once said in an interview: all romances end in tragedy.
Brundle and Quaife are the heart of the story. It’s after sex with Quaife that Brundle figures out why his device can’t teleport animate objects (after a horrific experiment with a baboon that is turned inside out by the device). It’s because of jealousy about Quaife and her ex-boyfriend that Brundle teleports himself and puts in motion his terrible degeneration into a monstrous human-fly hybrid. The inevitability of his degeneration is stomach-churning to watch, both visually and psychologically. Quaife’s insistence on sticking by the disease-ridden Brundle is heart-breaking. As the insect takes over and the transformation worsens, Brundle tells Ronnie “I’m saying I was an insect who dreamt he was a man, and loved it. But now the dream is over, and the insect is awake. I’m telling you I’ll hurt you if you stay.” There are tears in both their eyes, and a little tear in my own eye!
“Be afraid…be very afraid”
If it was just a love story, and missed out the body horror aspects, ‘The Fly’ would still be a great film. But the gory excesses accentuate and define the film, making the audience queasy yet sympathetic to Brundle’s transformations. After his first teleportation, Brundle feels fanstastic; he’s overly energetic, sexually voracious, super-strong and agile (It could be seen as an origin for super-hero: man goes through teleport device with molecules cleansed and muscles strengthened…). However, in the words of Ronnie, he begins to look bad and smell bad. His teeth fall out, his ear falls off, he pulls his fingernails off (all stored in the Brundle Museum of Natural History), his skin wrinkles and mutates…The make-up and special effects are second to none. Brundle’s transformation is never anything less than convincing and grotesque, culminating in a deliciously hideous revelation of the monster within, as it explodes through Brundle’s decaying flesh in the final act of the film.
Cronenberg has always been obsessed with ‘the flesh,’ but his obsession has never been clearer, more defined and more picturesque than in ‘The Fly.’ Brundle himself is obsessed with ‘the flesh,’ attempting to make the teleportation crazy about ‘the flesh’ in order to understand it. He rambles on about society’s fear of the flesh, and how he needs a deep penetration of the flesh. Of course, the themes of flesh melding with/being moulded by technology are nothing new in Cronenberg’s films. But here they are given a more personal element than they are in the majority of his films.
Another majestic element of ‘The Fly’ is Howard Shore’s soundtrack. Shore and Cronenberg work very well together, and here they are perfectly in sync. The soundtrack complements, but never overwhelms, the story being told. One scene that always sticks in my mind is Brundle’s arm wrestle with a random man at a bar. He leaves Quaife after she refuses to teleport, and goes out looking for another woman. He finds one and challenges her man to an arm wrestle for a night with her. The soundtrack has the viewer constantly on edge and the men grasp hands, and explodes into horror when Brundle breaks the man’s wrist, resulting in a protruding bone.
“Please don’t kill me”
Just consider this for a moment: ‘The Fly’ is a remake! It’s a remake of a 1958 film, itself based on a short story. As a rule, I try to avoid remakes. Nowadays, they present the same film that they are based on with eye-straining CGI. They may add modern twists to it (such as ‘Robocop’ and the drones), but they’re usually just eye candy, rather than a political/philosophical statement. However, ‘The Fly’ is the epitome of a remake done right (just like ‘The Thing’ is, for very similar reasons!). It takes the basics of the original but presents them in a very different way. Cronenberg gives us plenty of reasons to watch a remake, from Goldblum’s performance, to the incredible make-up effects, to the tragic love story. Look at the remake of ‘Total Recall,’ for example. It followed the same story as the original, without any major deviations apart from the lack of Mars and a ridiculous elevator that went through the centre of the earth. Let’s just hope ‘The Fly’ doesn’t get another remake, which is likely given Hollywood’s fetish for remaking classic 80s films.
David Cronenberg’s ‘The Fly’ is his greatest achievement as a filmmaker. It contains most of his themes (technology, the flesh) and his fetishes (body horror) but mixes them up with a tragic love story. Everyone is at the top of their game here. Goldblum should have won an Oscar for his performance as Brundle. His depiction of a man struggling with a disease that cannot be cured is second to none (if it was cancer, and if the film wasn’t science fiction, I reckon he would have bagged it!). The soundtrack is at once riveting and terrifying, making our stomachs turn at the thought of what could happen next. There’s something here for everyone (well, not if you are squeamish…). It’s Cronenberg at his most accessible yet most grotesque. But most of all, it’s a bloody cracking film!
VERDICT: 10/10. ‘The Fly’ is Cronenberg’s magnum opus, a fantastic blend of science fiction, body horror and romance. It contains Jeff Goldblum’s greatest performance and the greatest love story in science fiction history. Plus, Hollywood could learn a lot from ‘The Fly’ about how to do a remake…
Click here to read my review of David Cronenberg’s ‘Crash’ (1996)