The Fly (1986)
March 18, 2016 6:31 PM - Subscribe

A brilliant but eccentric scientist begins to transform into a giant man/fly hybrid after one of his experiments goes horribly wrong.

Deep Focus Reviews: Mind and body cannot coexist. Each works according to its own set parameters, degenerating with time, never in unison. Oblivious to the body, the mind exists freely until it is forced to contemplate its carrier. We take our bodies for granted pending disease or injury damaging them, at which point our minds are helpless to do anything but allow the body to run its course. We look in the mirror and suddenly we are not that person we once recognized. We get old, thin, wrinkled, or fat, our hair changes color, or any number of ageing signs. Somehow we feel different from what we see; our bodies have betrayed us. This mind-body dichotomy suggests that biology is, to some extent, inconsequential next to human consciousness—that consciousness exists without benefit of bodily interference. The cinema of Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg infers an alternate theme: human corporeality exists parallel to, if not wholly exceeding, cognitive substance. Cronenberg’s 1986 film The Fly delivers an introspective conflict between the genius mind of Seth Brundle, played in a virtuoso performance by Jeff Goldblum, and the character’s body.

denofgeek: Although ostensibly a sci-fi movie, The Fly is equally a relationship drama - a romance which, as Cronenberg has often stated, ends in tragedy, as all romances must. At first, Brundle's infusion of insect DNA leaves him galvanised, like an athlete on a performance enhancing drug; he chatters incessantly, snacks on candy bars, performs extraordinary feats of gymnastic agility using conveniently-placed water pipes - and, to Ronnie's bemusement, his expanded stamina also extends to the bedroom.

Gradually, however, the fly's DNA begins to manifest itself as a disease. Skin disorders rapidly give way to the gooey loss of teeth and fingernails, and Brundle's increasing anger and paranoia drives a wedge between he and Ronnie.

NYTimes: As Brundle slowly turns into a ghastly, mad creature, though - he resembles a decomposing body but still has wit enough to call himself Brundlefly - Mr. Cronenberg's interest narrows, and his camera languidly worships every stage of the metamorphosis. Brundle plucks off his ear, bleeds a milky liquid, and I won't even tell you how he eats. Emotional issues become ludicrous jokes; Brundle tries to talk the pregnant Ronnie out of aborting the fly-fetus she may be carrying. The plot diminishes to: How can he possibly look worse? And should I watch? This is intense, all right, but not scary or sad, or even intentionally funny.

Slant: Though The Fly rewards a generalized reading as a metaphor for terminal illness without too much unused, leftover thematic material (hell, it's a pretty fantastic little horror flick/chamber tragedy on the surface, hence the easy tag line “Be afraid. Be very afraid.”), almost every one of The Fly's viscous substances reflect the of-the-moment AIDS panic, re-characterizing the film as something of a requiem for the pool orgy abandon of the director's decade-earlier They Came from Within. The first scene of the film is an unmistakable sexual pick-up, in which Goldblum entices Davis to come to his apartment to see his private discovery, something that will change the world. Once there, he tells her to submit a material piece of very personal currency so that he can demonstrate the machine's purpose; she chooses, and at great length removes, her stocking. This clearly isn't a film for everybody and yet, it's also very hard not to appreciate its many virtues: It works remarkably well because the two leads manage to get you involved on what could have easily been laughable otherwise., They are able to convince the audience that these proceedings are really happening, turning us into an observing "fly in the wall" in the process (so to speak). Cronenberg goes way over the top in the last act but this is still about as convincing a movie about a subject this preposterous as has ever been made.

The beetle & the fly, by David Cronenberg


Be afraid. Be very afraid.
posted by MoonOrb (21 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I've said this before about Cronenberg, he has the ability to take some of the silliest premises of all times (see:Rabid and the Brood) and not only make them legitimately scary and creepy, but in such a way that lasts. This is a stellar example of that ability. There is absolutely nothing laughable about this film. It's still as awesome and terrifying as it was when I first saw it. (Disclaimer: I pretty much love Cronenberg. Not everything he ever made, but a large chunk of it.)
posted by miss-lapin at 7:41 PM on March 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

A true classic, but I don't think I could watch it again. It tells some really ugly truths about illness and dying.

Does anybody know of an interview where Cronenberg talked about why he gave up the body horror stuff? He's probably addressed it hundreds of times, but I wouldn't know where to start. It was such a driving force in his films, but after eXistenZ he totally gave it up. The movies he makes now almost seem like the work of another guy.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 9:17 PM on March 18, 2016 [4 favorites]

Cronenberg says that he hasn't given anything up and why does everybody keep using the term "body horror?" It's been totally imposed on him.
posted by rhizome at 9:56 PM on March 18, 2016

Body horror is a sub genre of horror. For example, Human Centipede is considered body horror. Certainly the Fly and Rabid also qualify as body horror, although there are also other elements. These films focus on the body transforming in radical ways and the horror of being trapped within that transformation. It brings up issues that people coping with illness and disability often experience (or at least I do) in terms of the body being a sep. thing, an enemy. So I don't think it's imposing to call this film body horror. It's not reductive. Exploring those fears is incredibly difficult and the reason why the film still works is because of how effectively Cronenberg did that.
posted by miss-lapin at 11:06 PM on March 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

Hey, guys. Just checking in here.
posted by brundlefly at 11:43 PM on March 18, 2016 [26 favorites]

The sugar packets are on the table in the back, next to the coffee.
posted by rhizome at 11:49 PM on March 18, 2016 [7 favorites]

The limited use of product placement in this film is a little surprising for Cronenberg.

Seth Brundle is about to arm wrestle Marky

2nd Man In Bar: Better watch out, he eats Cookies-n-Creme Twix bars, now with Extra Creme.

Marky: Yeah, so I noticed.
posted by Auden at 5:20 AM on March 19, 2016

One thing that I love about this is how little a movie is. There are so few settings that it could almost be a stage play if they could work out the special effects. Maybe that's a function of the limited budget that they had to work with but keeping most of the action so focused on just his makeshift lab in a warehouse gives it a quality that it wouldn't have if they'd had the funds to film in some giant gleaming sci-fi set.

Also I've said this before but the early to mid eighties were such a golden age for SFX makeup.
posted by octothorpe at 6:39 AM on March 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Also I'm constantly amazed at how well Sci-Fi from the eighties has aged compared to how thirty year old movies looked from the perspective of 1986. Films like Bladerunner, The Fly, The Thing and Aliens can still all be appreciated non-ironically today while it was hard at that time to watch movies like the original Fly, The Thing or Forbidden Planet without laughing a little or quite a lot from the camp of it.
posted by octothorpe at 7:08 AM on March 19, 2016 [5 favorites]

Most Fun Fly Fact: Cronenberg himself plays the abortionist because he couldn't find an actor willing to take the role.
posted by Bringer Tom at 7:27 AM on March 19, 2016 [4 favorites]

This is the last movie my mother went to see in the theater with me. I was graduating high school and wanted to go see a film for old times sake before I went off to college.

She's never forgiven me. To this day I can say, "Let's see how Brundlefly eats..." and she'll throw a pillow at me.

Time for a rewatch.
posted by beowulf573 at 8:14 AM on March 19, 2016 [5 favorites]

brilliant but eccentric scientist
I wonder if this was the type Goldblum was born to play.

Also I'm constantly amazed at how well Sci-Fi from the eighties has aged compared to how thirty year old movies looked from the perspective of 1986.
I think that happened for two reasons: first, it moved away from the pulp origins sci-fi had in the 50s, and directors had a better grasp of technology to make it more believable than in the 50s, where it was treated almost like magic. The impact of behind the scenes people like Dan O'Bannon, Trumbull and designers like Giger, Foss and particularly Syd Mead helped push sci-fi into a much more believable vision if the future.
posted by lmfsilva at 8:27 AM on March 19, 2016

Also 1) pessimism holds up better than optimism and 2) practical effects were as good as they were ever going to get since CGI wasn't big enough to do everything on computers yet.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:52 AM on March 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

It mostly just makes me happy that I can go back and re-watch films from my college years and not feel embarrassed about them. Although nothing can top watching this for the first time on campus with an auditorium full of half-drunk and/or stoned students reacting to every scare with glee.
posted by octothorpe at 8:56 AM on March 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

since CGI wasn't big enough to do everything on computers yet.

Yeah, also this. I'm moderately optimistic with the choices done with the Blade Runner sequel (at last I hope it's a sequel, and not a reboot with wink wink to the previous titles à là Ghostbusters, because if it is, fuck them), but what concerns me is if they will respect the ambient of Blade Runner, that was possible because they pushed practical effects to the maximum and had to work within the confines of them instead of greenscreens.
I'm not expecting them to make a movie with early 80's tech, but I am expecting a similar experience taking advantage of it, not a gratuitous CGI-fest.

Likewise, The Brundlefly was a pretty neat accomplishment on practical effects and makeup. 10/15 years ago they'd try some shitty CGI that would end up looking decent on stills (at best), but moving would be PS2-level graphics (I'm looking at you, Matrix sequels). He looks increasingly creepier, as he should, and not distracting.
posted by lmfsilva at 12:05 PM on March 19, 2016

There's so much more to The Fly than its effects, buuuuut while we're here, what I find interesting about late '80s practical effects is how much better they've aged than the early '90s CGI that threatened to make them obsolete. I saw Alien 3 in the theater and thought the effects were fantastic, but by the early '00s the scenes of the Alien chasing people around may as well have been some horror version of Who Framed Roger Rabbit. It could not be clearer that the monster was just a cartoon. But well-done practical effects will always work. A thing that's really there will never get less real with time.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 12:36 PM on March 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

On Siskel & Ebert, Siskel puts The Fly on his top 10 of 1986 list. Ebert says it isn't on his list, but he would've included it on a top 20 list. Notice Ebert mocking Siskel for his insight: "Gee, you're right — a fly could get in there! That never occurred to me!" (Watch about 3:45 - 5:45.)
posted by John Cohen at 12:39 PM on March 19, 2016

The last act of Brundlefly is absolutely heartrending.
posted by infinitewindow at 9:02 PM on March 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

Most Fun Fly Fact: Cronenberg himself plays the abortionist because he couldn't find an actor willing to take the role.

I wish I could remember where I got this, but what I heard was that Geena Davis wanted Cronenberg to play that role because she trusted him and didn't want some rando standing between her legs. That might be complete bullshit though, given my lack of source.
posted by brundlefly at 2:12 AM on March 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

I distinctly recall hearing the story of Cronenberg not being able to find another actor to take the role of the abortionist from Cronenberg's own lips, IIRC from a DVD bonus feature.
posted by Bringer Tom at 4:12 PM on March 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

Just rewatched this last night and what a great film (barring the baboon bits, jfc). The blue ray has this super silly Easter egg fly catching game on it where you zap flies that appear on your screen throughout the film (we only did this through level 1 before hitting max ridiculousness). Then we spent the next two hours laughing at the IMDb trivia for the Fly, it’s worth a read.
posted by iamkimiam at 1:25 AM on November 4, 2018

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