One of the things about getting older is that some things feel like yesterday, so when our Esteemed Editor pointed out that David Cronenberg’s film The Fly, is 30 years old having being released in 1986 I felt exceptionally old as it feels like only last week I saw this at the cinema.
The Fly when it came out was a critical success for Croneberg and for good reason, the two main leads, Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davies turn out a pair of brilliant performances as scientist Seth Brundle and journalist Veronica Quaife. It also gave Croneberg the massive commercial hit he’d never had but in terms of where it ranks in Cronenberg’s C.V. at the time was pretty high, though for me at the time it stands behind Videodrome.
Cronenberg’s film is almost theatrical as much of it plays out in one set, Brundle’s warehouse flat/lab where he’s experimenting in human teleportation which brings him to the attention of Quaife who writes for a science magazine based by the looks of it upon Omni. This also brings him to the attention of Quaife’s editor, Stathis Borans (John Getz), who is also her former lover. Barring a few very minor roles this is the cast, and here’s where Cronenberg manages to develop three fully-formed characters which is what this film is really about once you strip away the gore and vomit which is what people tend to think of when thinking of this film.
After thinking that Quaife is sleeping with Borans again, Brundle gets drunk and angry enough to experiment with himself to prove he can teleport living things, which til then had ended up in a bloody mess. The experiment succeeds though unbeknown to Brundle, a fly teleports with him and his and the fly’s DNA has now merged which sees him go through a series of physical changes which starts positively, but then takes a darker turn as Brundle’s body begins to deteriorate which ends up with a life or death situation for all three of our main cast.
The Fly is full of Cronenberg’s themes of body horror as we watch Brundle quite literally fall to pieces, though lesser directors would focus on the Grand Guignol, Cronenberg does that as well as detail how a terminal illness (the film was seen as an AIDS allegory at the time) affects someone and the people, or in this case person, close to them. Goldblum turns out an amazing performance as someone who finds the woman of his dreams who then contracts something that is going to kill him. In dealing with the emotional depths this takes him, Cronenberg and Goldblum forces the audience to consider their own mortality through the safe medium of a horror film. The fantasy element detaches the viewer from the reality of the situation, but nevertheless it’s still a film about someone coming to terms with their impending death and how their flesh is changing as they progress to their end.
This is still a triumph of a film. Goldblum and Davies made their names from this film (and rightfully so) while Cronenberg moved onto direct a series of films which although on the whole moved away from horror, still retained his exploration of the flesh. The Fly is 30 years old yet it still retains a power and relevance which is rare in horror films today, which makes this one of the most important films in the catalogue of an exceptional director.