In his ambitious updating of the 1958 sci-fi classic, acclaimed Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg transforms “The Fly” into a vehicle for his career-long exploration of how the human body is reshaped by technology and disease.
Screening at NAU’s Cline Library on Tuesday, April 3, at 7 pm, the film features the brilliant young scientist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) as he develops teleportation pods that will revolutionize our understanding of time and space.
Using himself as a test subject, Brundle successfully teleports, unaware that a housefly is trapped in the pod and fuses with him at the genetic level. Initially convinced he has undergone a quasi-religious transformation, Brundle becomes increasingly fascinated with the disintegration of not only his own body, but also his romance with science journalist Veronica (Geena Davis) who refuses to similarly “dive into the plasma pool.”
Featuring Academy Award-winning practical makeup effects by Chris Walas and compelling performances by real-life couple Goldblum and Davis, “The Fly” continues Cronenberg’s preoccupation with “body horror,” or the grotesque limits of our fleshy form, as previously delved in his sci-fi/horror films “The Brood,” “Scanners,” and “Videodrome.”
Although many reviewers in 1986 read the film as a metaphor for AIDS, Cronenberg intended Brundle’s plight to reflect the more universal experience of aging, and how humans try to rationalize their bodies’ inevitable decay. Befitting his early-career aspirations to become both a scientist and a novelist, Cronenberg also uses the film to thoughtfully explore how the male-dominated fields of science and medicine can become monstrous in their attempts to control women’s bodies, those of especially strong, independent women like Veronica.
While not for the squeamish, “The Fly” uses sci-fi and horror tropes to probe the boundaries between human and animal, flesh and technology, death and reproduction, progress and disaster, in ways that a more typical drama might find difficult to address. “Insects don’t have politics,” Brundle declaims as he becomes more fly than man, but “The Fly” proves that genre films often do, even beneath the cover of a lot of gooey special effects.
A campy Vincent Price movie this is not — but for viewers with strong stomachs and open minds, Cronenberg’s smart, scary, and strangely moving vision remains worth a watch.