14. The Fly (1986)

TheFly1I don’t buy Titanic, or The Killer, or Halloween, or any of the best movies of frequent entrants on this Top 100. Frankly, I dislike the idea of holding a director to one work, whose shadow they’ll always live in. But for David Cronenberg, my favorite director if not the director of my favorite films, the popular choice is the one for me. And it isn’t difficult to see what many fans see in this one. Like man to creature, this is the seamless wedding of horror and drama.

Seamless, though? Maybe not. It’s oozy and grotesque. Not for the faint, but far from the most fiendish imagery in a DC flick — Naked Lunch takes the top spot there. With The Fly, we follow one Seth Brundle, a brilliant scientist who like most people, according to Louis CK, wants to go faster. He’s just waiting for the perfect audience to demonstrate, and finds her in Veronica.

His technology might look strange and Giger-esque (fashioned after the design of a certain motorcycle engine, Cronenberg being a huge motorhead), but it’s okay — it only breaks you down to molecules and shoots them over the air. With these two pods, teleportation is born. And it dies moments later, when a fly shares molecule-space with Brundle.

Pioneer hubris, broken hearts, and redemption — these are the driving forces in The Fly, not teleportation and space monsters*. For all the fantastic, it’s a very human film, proof even further than The Dead Zone that David Cronenberg is a storyteller, not some gonzo preoccupied purely by experimental images.

In fact, the character that always stands out to me is Stathis, Veronica’s ex-lover and current boss. He’s quickly jealous of Seth, and at first he’s a total creep. The perfect foil for our goofy Seth. But just as Seth begins to arc down and becomes a monster both literally and figuratively, that foil maintains, and Stathis begins to come around in a highly satisfying turn.

The Fly is unique in that it’s got four characters, three main, one guest. It’s very play-like, also with its few locations, and that’s probably why it’s been or being adapted to the stage for a musical (that may just be another one of those mythological Cronenberg projects, like The Fly III or Eastern Promises 2, no joke either count). This puts the focus entirely on the characters, and it is a ‘character-driven’ piece, insofar as they drive along a road predestined by an amazing story.

One of my favorite dramas, and one of my favorite scifi/horror movies as well. I tend to enjoy the former even more, betraying my roots. But perhaps I’m transforming into something too. Something acidic and terrible. Not really — it’s just that somehow the story trumps the David Hayter Principle despite full violation here, where we extract man-fly (-squito) from teleportation. You can’t have both!

I wonder if David Cronenberg, accomplished scribe in numerous forms as he is, would’ve crossed the dark hero, but then, this is a remake. Much like The Thing, it’s often considered superior to the 50s predecessor (both had written forerunners as well, short story and novella, written protheans), and also like The Thing, there’s a sequel. Although The Thing (2011) is technically a prequel/reboot, if you could say ‘technically’ for such a qualification, The Fly II is a true continuation.

And yet, the same story, but a vision of what David Cronenberg has perpetrated in an alternate universe, and never in ours: compromise. The Fly II is a brutal horror film ankled by doubtless studio meddling. The ending is inappropriately happy and deus ex machina, in dramatic contrast to the original’s tragic, frank conclusion.

That original is also a brutal horror film, and may be too much for some. We might see the mix of genres, of comedy even, as a constant throughout all of his work, as a mainstream appeal, an attempt to rope in all stripes. But let’s take genre out of that, and what we’re left with is a film that encompasses that breadth of human emotion and experience. Even when that human becomes a fly-man.

*The creature effects team referred to the various stages of Brundlefly mutation as the space fly, and I believe a book on SF laid the blame of the story on space cancer. There is no space in this movie. Just as in Air Bud 2, space doesn’t exist in the film’s fictional universe.

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