The Fly (1986)

Year: 1986

Production: Brooksfilms / 20th Century-Fox

Director: David Cronenberg

Starring: Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, John Getz, Joy Boushel, Les Carlson

Screenwriter: Charles Pogue, David Cronenberg

Based on The Fly (1957) by George Langelaan

100 minutes; Color


This blackly comic remake is radically more sophisticated and more horrific than its original. In this version the (this time married) scientist's accident leads to a melding of genetic material, and his transformation into fly is gradual and protracted. With it comes a sexual and creative potency and a capacity for destruction hitherto only latent in the idealistic, repressed Seth Brundle, movingly acted by Goldblum. As usual Cronenberg confronts the vulnerable and ephemeral nature of the human body by imagining it metamorphosed; where other people use words to create metaphor, Cronenberg uses the flesh, ambiguously evoking exultation and disgust, the grotesque and the beautiful. The sequel is The Fly II (1989).

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

Compared to the facelessness of Cronenberg's previous "mainstream" project, The Dead Zone (1983), The Fly, although a remake, is a very personal film, returning to the obsessional examinations of bodily metamorphosis and scientific experimentation that run throughout the director's oeuvre. Seth Brundle (Goldblum), the gawky scientist who invents teleportation as a way of getting around his chronic motion sickness, emerges from the telepod in which he has been fused with the molecules of an interfering fly, not as an insect-headed monstrosity, like David Hedison in the original The Fly (1958), but as a super-improved version of himself. However, after he has demonstrated his prowess as a sexual athlete and a bar-room arm-wrestler, he finds himself gradually transforming, decomposing and otherwise losing his humanity as he develops into Brundlefly, a literal fusion of Brundle and the fly. Typical of Cronenberg is the combination of graphic sickness and good humor that accompanies Brundle's metamorphosis, which he is at pains always to treat in a philosophical, questioning manner ("Do you know insects have no politics," he remarks. "I'd like to be the first insect politician."). Goldblum tosses off nervous remarks about his collection of dropped-off body parts, gives an amusingly disgusting, tv chef-like demonstration of the fly-like manner in which he consumes a doughnut, hums "I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly" and treats his mutations as a voyage of discovery.

Although it is a showcase for the make-up effects of Walas and his crew, and was Cronenberg's biggest production, the film is a surprisingly compressed, intimate work. It has only three main characters and one main set, and makes do with the metamorphosis and a restrained eternal triangle relationship, without feeling the need to invent melodramatic contrivances to extend the action (this monster doesn't go on a rampage to up the film's body count, unlike Eric Stoltz in the sequel, The Fly II [1988]). One unnecessary dream sequence, involving a maggot baby, apart - a similar flaw recurs in Cronenberg's otherwise excellent Dead Ringers (1988) - this is a perfectly structured, tightly inner-directed film, at once funny, poignant and horrific. Like many of Cronenberg's rigorously intelligent horrors, it can be read as a metaphor for the processes of disease and aging, and finally comes to an acceptance of the perishablility of human tissue as the transformed-beyond-possibility Brundle accepts death, like Lon Chaney's Wolf Man, at the hands of one who loves him, the neurotic heroine Quaife (Davis).

The Overlook Film Encyclopedia - Science Fiction

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