Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Movie Review: The Fly (1986)

 My introduction to the work of David Cronenberg began with Dead Ringers and this film, The Fly.  It was also my introduction to Jeff Goldblum, who plays Seth Brundle, a scientist who develops teleportation technology and has a mishap while testing the equipment. 

 That is where the similarities between Cronenberg's The Fly and the 1958 original, a classic in its own right, ends.

 The film opens at a science expo being held by Bartok Science Industries where Brundle is engaging a reporter, Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis), enticing her with the opportunity to see his latest world-changing invention.  She is amazed by the "telepods" when they transport one of her stockings across a room.  Her editor and former flame is less than impressed with what she has witnessed when she relays the story against Brundle's wishes, forcing her to return to the scientist for more information.  She cuts a deal with Brundle, agreeing to document the development process for what will eventually be a book.

 Brundle's device functions perfectly when dealing with "dead" material, but is horribly inept when dealing with living tissue.  To demonstrate this problem, Brundle attempts to teleport a baboon, only to have the machine turn the animal inside out.  Cronenberg is THE director of "body" or "venereal" horror, with most of his films masterfully mixing both psychological and physical horror focused on the deterioration or transformation of the body.  The inside-out baboon is the first real indication of just how graphic the film will become.

 Brundle and Quaife become romantically involved (Davis was Goldblum's girlfriend at the time).  Cronenberg makes liberal use of foreshadowing in the film.  For example, after a lovemaking session, Brundle discovers that a computer component with multiple prongs is imbedded in his back.  The wound left by the prongs is where the insect hairs that are the first indication that something is amiss emerge.  Later, Quaife's editor will cut his hand on glass when she is abducted by Brundle, only to have his hand melted off by the beast further into the film.  Their physical relationship inspires him to teach the computer to get "crazy" about the flesh, after which he is able to successfully teleport the remaining baboon.

 Jealous of Quaife's new romance and scoop on what will be the scientific story of the century, the editor sends Quaife a cover preview featuring the release of the story based on what little information she has already provided.  Quaife leaves Brundle to deal with her editor, and Brundle pieces together her relationship with her editor in his mind.  While he intended to have the baboon tested before teleporting himself, he decides to go ahead with the procedure in a emotional and alcohol fueled fugue.

 He is, of course, unaware that a fly has entered the pod with him.

 When Brundle emerges from the pod, he seems fine.  Indeed, he discovers he is better than fine.  His senses, reflexes, endurance, and strength have all been enhanced, which he assumes is a result of being torn apart and then rebuilt by the computer.  The euphoric state quickly dissipates as Brundle becomes ever more manic.  When he insists that Quaife also go through the teleportation procedure, she refuses, and Brundle kicks her out of the lab and then goes in search of another woman to teleport.  He wins a woman after breaking a much larger man's arm in an arm-wrestling contest (resulting in a very convincing compound fracture).  She also refuses to go through the teleporter after a love-making session, and is saved when Quaife returns.  Quaife reveals that she had the coarse hairs that appeared on Brundle's back analyzed at a lab, and they appear to be those of an insect.

 Brundle kicks Quaife out again.  He then goes into the bathroom to look at himself in the mirror.  He appears to have only developed a severe case of acne.  Brundle habitually chews his nails, and while inspecting his face in the mirror he removes one of his nails completely from its bed and squirts a strange pus on the mirror.  From there, his deterioration and transformation accelerates until the eventual full reveal of the monster within at the film's climax.

 Cronenberg masterfully takes us through both the psychological and extremely graphic physical transformation of Brundle into "Brundle-Fly".  At first, the man that Brundle once was struggles with his transformation, assuming his going to die.  Particularly disturbing is the "vomit-drop", the way that the Fly has to eat by vomiting a corrosive enzyme onto the food and then sucking it back up.  Brundle, his mind and body being transformed, eventually comes to accept his transformation, even reveling in his new state which allows him to cling to walls and the ceiling. 

 Still, he would prefer to be human.  He devises a way to become more human by fusing himself with human victims in the same manner that he was fused with a fly.  When he discovers that Quaife is pregnant with his child and that she intends to have an abortion, he concludes that fusing himself with Quaife and his unborn child presents the perfect solution.

 My favorite dialogue from the film:

 Veronica (filming Seth after the failed attempt to teleport a baboon): "We've got to do this, Seth.  Talk to the tape.  Get in the habit.  The world will want to know what you're thinking."

 Seth: "FUCK is what I'm thinking!"

 Veronica: "Good.  The world will want to know that." 

 The performance was superbly executed by all involved.  The Fly was one of Goldblum's first leading roles.  The quirky mannerisms which at the time may have been attributed to the role are now understood to be those of Jeff Goldblum.  He, like Al Pacino, Jack Nicholas, and others, is one of those actors who is consistently himself regardless of the role he is given.  The special effects were top of the line before CGI, with only a few instances where they were obvious.  The Fly is a horror film classic, and one of Cronenberg's best.

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