The Fly (1986) dir. David Cronenberg
IMDb link RT-link
Year: 1986 - Director: David Cronenberg - Cast: Jeff Goldblum, Gena Davis, John Getz - Length: 96 min. Color/Stereo
I was doing laundry, which for some strange reason involved the ironing of trousers and shirts one Saturday in 1994. I'm slow at ironing if I do it right. And I don't like doing the chore, so usually I leave it off. That's why it was a strange Saturday. I was ironing. To let you know how much of a backlog I had, and how long it took me, I watched The Fly
with commercial breaks, and most of Enemy Mine
with commercial breaks while loads would complete, and get hung up on racks to dry (I had no dryer in that old townhouse) and I would pick out the pieces to iron.
It was a version of The Fly
that I knew I had never seen. As I explained in the review for the original film, for a long time I thought I had seen the 1958 original, but I had seen the sequel Return of the Fly
from 1959. At that time I thought I was watching the remake of the one I had seen as a teenager.
To my astonishment (when I watched the DVD version for this thread, and realized that) the UHF TV station that showed the film in Memphis didn't cut anything other than language. Apparently the soundtrack was altered for television broadcast, but the near-nudity and intense gruesomeness of the film was left as is. That time, and after my first viewing for the Rematch I found myself quite disturbed by the film. It was a subliminal disturbance, a sort of unease that didn't stop me from doing anything but followed me around. In 1994, I knew that David Cronenberg (whose name I had read but about whom I knew zilch) had created a movie that affected me. It was an intellectual uneasiness. I thought about this film, and what it showed, but also what it stands for.
This went on for days after the first viewing. Imagine how it might have affected me if it hadn't been interrupted by ads every few minutes!
I wasn't astonished to hear Cronenberg confess on the commentary track that after he viewed the film for the first time since 1986, in order to prepare for the commentary track recording session, it left him feeling disturbed. Somehow, he says, it bypassed his usual daily journal of revived memories that pop up when he watches one of his completed films, and he found himself getting wrapped up in the imagery, the story, the characters. I've watched my own videos years after production, so I know exactly the effect he's talking about, and it's a mark of how effective the film is that it occluded the director's normal response when he watched it again.
This is a very powerful film. It has humor, but it is so dark as to elicit nothing stronger than a sense of irony in the viewer. It's a twist, but the things I like about the film are often gory and ugly on the screen, yet they seem to say something interesting about the human condition and human nature. Cronenberg never holds back from being critical of his characters within his screenplays, and in this case his fascination was centered on what the scientist being transformed thought of the process. How the experience affected him. So he makes the scientist, Seth Brundle, quite an articulate, verbal fellow, and his lover is a reporter who is assigned to do an article on him. They decide to record everything that Brundle does, and it's her idea that he should articulate his successes and failures on video. It is like documenting a person's descent into drug addiction, but an inexorable kind of drug addiction for which there is no cure or escape.
The 1986 adaptation of The Fly
is a chronicle of degradation and ruin, certainly a human condition, but one we always hope to avoid and most often never see ourselves sliding into. There is no redemption. In that sense it parallels the relentless darkness of the noir film Detour
, or Visconti's 1943 Ossessione
Cronenberg, as scriptwriter, examines a lot of questions about the human condition; about becoming something new (which is not necessarily or always a good thing); about relationships and how we don't know everything about those to whom we are attracted. We don't know anything
, really. In a sense, these are the same questions George Langelaan posed, but he didn't seek to answer them. For the original short story Langelaan was satisfied with merely conjuring a tale that would ask
the questions. Or it seems so. Kurt Neumann and James Clavell were content to merely translate those questions into cinematic form. Cronenberg, by his nature, wants to poke and prod the questions, and to proffer possible answers to those questions. This makes his film the kind that I like to watch, but to also ponder after watching. That it caused the director to do the same when he watched it years later is a good thing, I think.
Here are a few aspects of the film that I like:
We aren't shielded from anything by cinematic propriety. Just as the 1958 film was bold in its day, Cronenberg's 1986 film showers us with boldness: language and imagery that could not appear in any other genre, even in 1986. Because this is a horror film, it gets away with characterizations, relationships, and things that happen that you couldn't have had go on in a crime film of the era. At least Cronenberg says in the commentary that he'd never have gotten a lot of aspects past the studio bosses if he'd been making anything other than a horror movie.
The chemistry between Davis and Goldblum is good. Ronnie seems unable to totally disengage once she learns what is happening to Seth, and Davis portrays that well. She manages to balance repulsion with latent attraction, while Goldblum makes Seth both the vicious predatory fly, and a caring man who doesn't want to hurt the woman he loves. This successfully retains the romantic aspect between Mr and Mrs Delambre in the original story and the 1958 film, but gives it a new, grisly twist.
There are some real shocks in this film for first-time viewers. I found myself thinking, "I can't belive Cronenberg just showed that," several times when I watched the film on TV. Of course my second and third viewings came with prior knowledge of everything, so the shocks are gone. But the film accomplished that in the beginning.
This script tosses in frustrating moments. Sometimes those filmic moments are frustrating because of badness in the writer's skills, but in this case the writer has all the skills he needs; it's plot elements that frustrate the viewer's expectations. The cool thing about this is that you sometimes feel frustrated that Seth can't rampage the way you thought he would. And you really don't want him to do the things he would do, it's just that...for the most part Cronenberg is a good writer.
Cronenberg's choice to examine the internal workings of Dr Brundle's transformation. The fact that he makes the transformation slow, and mysterious, even to the victim. And, the fact that Seth is given Veronica as an ally during his transformation to play our part in reacting to what is going on.
Once again, David Cronenberg shows us ugly things, very
ugly things in such a manner that we cannot look away.
Even when I rant positively about a film you've learned by now that there are a few things I don't like, or wish were different. Here are the whiny parts of this review. I haven't changed any of them, but as I edited the post I realized that they all stem more or less from the same thing:
The film eases into territory where the grossness is just a little much. This is intentional, of course, but I respond to all that in just the way Cronenberg expected: it grosses me out. I can only imagine how horrific this all seems to someone with a lower threshhold of gross-out than I have. My threshold is extraordinarily high, as a matter of fact. Some who might otherwise enjoy the horrific nature may shun the film from the first point of ook, which occurs within the first 10 minutes of the run time. Those folks will miss all the wonderfulness that ensues later. A shame.
Possibly because of Cronenberg's skewed sense of humor, in the last act of the movie he begins to play with situations and plot developments that have you (me at least) thinking that some boundary of reasonableness has been crossed. In other words, he seems to veer outside the world he has created for the movie, transforming it into something he hasn't prepared us for. This may be intentional. After all, how could Seth and Ronnie have been prepared for what happens in the first 2/3 of the film? In a sense my objection is like crying out for scientific accuracy to reign in a Godzilla movie. It's more an emotional response than an intellectual one. And because it forces a different reaction from me intellectually than I get in my gut, I find it unlikable. But it certainly doesn't ruin the film! The next point is related to this:
Although Stathis Borans is supposed to be an ambivalent character, according to Cronenberg on the commentary, I don't like him at all. He's a meddler, and that's how he's supposed to be, but there just seems something ad-hoc about him, as if Cronenberg thought at the last minute, "Oh, we need an adversary and a rival for Seth Brundle." Perhaps you don't see him that way, and if not, I'd like to hear from you. It's how he always strikes me, and I wish he wasn't in the movie.
Ultimately, Ronnie is left to face this thing she stumbled into all by herself. Having gone through a divorce I understand what the character faces; real life men and women face situations like that, and it's excruciating. There is no Right Thing to be done. Only wrong things that present themselves as alternatives. The very end of this film is like that. Ronnie does what anyone about to toss their cookies would have done in the same situation, probably. I can't say that I would or wouldn't. I'm not likely to face a situation exactly like that. But I dislike that there is no one who offers her any real support. Stathis tries without success, but I like pretending that he doesn't exist.
Okay, this has to come up. How does Seth talk if his mouth has become a feeding tube? Huh? I hate it that the thought occurred to me. André Delambre can't talk in the 1958 film, but Seth talks right up until the time that his skin sloughs off. Oops. So, what do I dislike: that Cronenberg didn't catch this, or that I thought of it? Not sure.
Go back using these buttons.