David Cronenberg Retrospective: The Fly


Welcome back to the David Cronenberg Retrospective! Our next entry marks a transitional period for Sir Cronenberg, an evolution into the more accessible, character-driven stories that make up the latter part of his career. Cronenberg’s 1986 film The Fly, a remake of the 1958 flick by the same name, is a human story swathed in genre trappings. Really icky, awesome, genre trappings.  


 Jeff Goldblum gives a heartwrenching performance as Dr. Seth Brundle, an awkward yet charmingly earnest scientist who has discovered the secret to teleportation. He meets Veronica Quaife (the luminous Geena Davis) at a banquet hosted by Bartok Industries, the scientific conglomerate that funds his research. Sparks fly for Seth, while Veronica remains beguilingly unimpressed.   


Unimpressed, that is, until he takes her back to his windowless lair and shows her his telepods! Which is less dirty than it sounds. For now.  


Veronica and Seth embark on a partnership as she documents his journey into scientific discovery. Seth is at first unable to teleport living organisms, but after one of those post-coital epiphanies that always happen in movies (oh yeah, Seth and Veronica start doing it. Also, they fall in love), he refines the process and tests it on himself. Unfortunately a fly makes its way into the pod with Seth as he initiates the teleportation, and then stuff gets super gross!   

 I find it interesting that, unlike other Science is SCARY films, the eventual catastrophe is not caused by !SCIENCE! itself. Brundle is drunk and careless, the unhappy coincidence of a fly entering the pod is overlooked, and the consequence is disastrous. Sure, the process has some kinks at first—I’ll miss you, little baboon!—  

but Brundle has worked these out by the time he enters the pod. Emotion causes Brundle to be negligent, and that paired with an accident of fate results in tragedy. The tragedy of BRUNDLEFLY!  


Goldblum’s physical performance in The Fly is extraordinary. As Brundle reacts to the fly molecules buzzing around in his alarmingly fit bod, he grows steadily crabbier, more frenetic and skittish. He moves his neck and limbs and head in a fully anthropodic manner. Ultimately, my friends, you could say he’s pretty fly for a white guy.  If you were hilarious, like me.


But what’s most confounding about Goldblum’s performance is the emotional depth he gives to such a b-movie cliché. Brundle approaches his new flyfestyle as one coming to terms with a degenerative disease. He rages and grieves and eventually accepts the ghastly conditions of his new life. And Geena Davis as Veronica suffers along with him as the woman who loves him. 


Davis is also phenomenal in The Fly. Her initial insouciance is quickly revealed to be a mask for the great expanse of emotion of which she’s capable.  Ronnie is so incredibly kind, loyal and despairing as she watches Seth deteriorate. The center of The Fly is not a moralistic story about the danger of progress, nor a human vs. monster movie that asks WHO’S THE REAL MONSTER HERE?! No, The Fly tells the story of a poignant and unfortunate love triangle. So who’s the third point?    


Veronica’s creepy editor/ex-boyfriend Stathis Borans cannot relinquish his involvement in her life. Borans is a complex character, and John Getz manages to make something compelling of what should have been a throwaway role. Despite his juvenile humor, unappealing insecurity and stupid hair, by the time Veronica turns to Borans with the terrifying news that she’s pregnant with Brundlefly’s baby/larvae, the audience can accept that she’d rely on this jerk in her time of need. He’s not as much of a jerk as we thought—he absorbs the news with no judgment, no reaction—save to hold Veronica’s hand as she weeps. Getz more than redeems himself by the end of the film, and he creates a truly astonishing emotional arc for a secondary character in a 90 minute horror film.    

Yes! That’s right! 90 minutes! The Fly is the ideal length with no excess plot or incidentals. The story kicks off instantaneously with the introduction of Seth and Veronica and never slows down, yet always manages to compel and attach the audience to these characters. I’m just gonna say it. Basically every thing about this movie is perfect, okay? The score, by Howard Shore, is utterly epic—operatic on a scale that only a Cronenberg film could deserve. So it makes sense that The Fly was made into an opera

The dialogue is mysterious and poetic. We (Mr. Marla, Jerry, Erin and I) started a drinking game where we drank every time the word “flesh” was uttered—a game that Jerry rightly supposed could apply to every Cronenberg film! The constant repetition of the word “flesh” is a truly awesome similarity to have among his movies, you guys.  The Fly has many other delightful lines, such as “I’m not sure I get it.” “You got it, alright, you just can’t handle it.” Magnificent delivery by Mr. Goldblum! And of course the notorious and oft-repeated “Be afraid. Be very afraid.” And also there’s THIS! 


The make-up is OUTRAGEOUS in this movie. Chris Walas and Stephen Dupuis deservedly won an Oscar for the gruesome and gradual transformation from Brundle to Brundlefly. Goldblum seems to decay before our eyes. The film also boasts a startlingly realistic splintered wrist and the ubiquitous Cronenberg ‘splodey head.  Also, you know how a fly vomits an acidic substance over its food in order to consume it? Yeah, Walas and Dupuis do plenty of amazing shit with the acid-vom concept. Allow your imagination to wander!    

Perhaps my favorite part of The Fly: while rewatching with my friends the other night, I joked that the dream sequence gynecologist who tussles with the giant larvae sack emerging from between Veronica’s legs is David Cronenberg, and we all laughed that it would be the greatest director cameo ever. AND THEN GUESS WHAT. It actually IS Cronenberg! He is so very, very awesome.


Cronenberg deftly incorporates elements that take The Fly far beyond its schlocky premise. A sorrowful story and complex and fully-realized characters make this monster movie into something more. As Seth feels the last vestiges of his remaining humanity slip away, he turns to the woman he loved as a man and whispers,  

“I’m an insect who dreamt he was a man and loved it.  But the dream is over…and the insect is awake.” 


For the rest of the entries in the Cronenberg Retrospective, go here.

5 Responses to “David Cronenberg Retrospective: The Fly”

  1. Excellent, and touching, review of this AMAZING movie. The first time I watched this film, I was about 12, and my reaction could be summed up as this: ” . . . . what? also, gross.” I’ve rewatched it a few times since then (though I *never* seem to remember about the vomit or the fingernails until it’s too late) and I’m really struck by how much care Cronenberg applied to this movie. It so easily could have been a schlocky, “don’t run up the stairs, you moron” movie (and there are some elements of that. Cut the emotional ties, Geena!) but instead it’s just this lovingly crafted movie that makes me want to give all the characters a hug. (um, but I want to hug Jeff before his transformation)

  2. Man, you nailed it. This movie is so much better than even the last time I watched it (probably about 10 years ago). I guess I just appreciated it more this time. Jeff Goldblume is just so damn good as Brundelfly. He emotes so much while having all this junk covering him. And to deliver his lines, be all twitchy, and be emotional while not seeming cheesy or stupid is a tall feat and he did it marvelously. And Geena Davis is really cool and is totally the hotness in this movie. That chick is awesome. And finally I need to give props to Croney for his awesome dialogue. Some of it is so crazy it’s quotable.

    You forgot the drinking rule where you have to drink twice for ‘splodey heads. V. important.

  3. I haven’t rewatched The Fly since it first came out. I was actually disappointed in the film, but since I’ve been revisiting old films on DVD in my blog this month, perhaps I’ll give it a second look. I’ve found some films actually improve with age and the passage of time while others that I once loved have dimmed considerably. I actually just rewatched Videodrome (which I still love and much prefer to The Fly) last night.

  4. you know a review is good when it makes me see past the nastiness that would normally send me RUNNING AND EEEEEING out of the room and leaves me with an understanding of why the film is actually worthwhile. granted, i still probably won’t see this, cos even the pictures made my stomach turn BUT i feel enlightened as to why this is actually a great movie.

    in other words, marla, you work magic with yr pen! er, keyboard.

  5. I read this article fully regarding the comparison of most
    up-to-date and earlier technologies, it’s remarkable article.

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