Wednesday, 21 September 2011

David Cronenberg's 'The Fly' (1986)

Fig. 1 The Fly poster

David Cronenberg’s 1986 remake of The Fly is greatly different from the original in terms of storytelling and context, even though the general premise and themes are the same. Cronenberg updates the story, placing it in a contemporary setting with contemporary issues, using the lead character Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum)’s painful, cancerous metamorphosis into the ‘Brundle-fly’ as a clear metaphor for HIV/AIDS, which had only recently emerged and was in the forefront of the public mind. In the premise of The Fly, Cronenberg ‘saw not only a perfect vehicle for his own peculiar brand of body horror but also for a thoughtful meditation on coping with malignant illness and loss’ (Sommerlad, 2009).

Fig. 2 Brundle still

Furthermore, the movie discusses female rights to abortion, as the secondary protagonist Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis) is very clear that due to the likelihood of Brundle’s child being another human-fly hybrid she wants it aborted. The use of the phrase ‘I want it out of my body’ particularly touches upon this, as it echoes a major pro-abortion argument; that it is a person’s right to decide what goes on in their body. In addition to this it looks at the ethics of bearing a deformed or disabled child; while the metaphor used is wild and improbable, the underlying themes are relevant even today.

Fig. 3 Brundle mid-transformation still

Rather than a clean theriocephalic hybridisation as in the Kurt Neumann version of the film, Cronenberg instead makes Brundle’s transformation slow and agonising as his very body turns against him (another HIV reference). As well as being utterly vile to watch, this highlights the characters’ humanity even further; Quaife hugs Brundle even after he vomits acid onto food to digest it and loses his ear. It is arguably more poignant than the original as Quaife refuses to abandon Brundle even as she sees firsthand how he becomes a monster. ‘What remains of Seth the scientist is all too aware of the monster he is turning into: an efficient killer with "no compassion, no compromise."’ (Corliss, 1986), making the transformation even more dreadful.
Fig. 4 Brundlefly still

The special effects and make-up have clearly come forward in leaps and bounds from the rubber mask days of the original, creating a gruesome monstrosity (The Fly won an Oscar for Best Make-up). It could be argued that this makes what is a beautiful story difficult to access, though on the other hand the body horror element is what makes the story so powerful. It has, however, been argued that the film tries too hard; ‘this all-out, flaunted goriness becomes distracting, and it destroys ''The Fly,'' which is too bad, because Mr. Goldblum's fly-man has heart and humor, and Mr. Cronenberg's vision is ambitious.’ (James, 1986). Ultimately the themes of the two movies are the same; devotion and love for a human being even as he degenerates into a monster.

List of Illustrations
Figure 1. Cronenberg, David (1986) The Fly Poster. At: http://images.wikia.com/horrormovies/images/7/76/Fly_poster-1-.jpg (Accessed on 04/10/11)
 Figure 2. Cronenberg, David (1986) Brundle still. At: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_tbbBo5gDRlg/SvHmdnjKZoI/AAAAAAAAApE/xJMNO5OAf_I/s400/fly_1986_xl_01--film-A.jpg (Accessed on 04/10/11)
Figure 2. Cronenberg, David (1986) Brundle mid-transformation still. At: http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Film/Pix/pictures/2009/9/25/1253884210077/Jeff-Goldblum-in-The-Fly--001.jpg (Accessed on 04/10/11)
Figure 4. Cronenberg, David (1986) Brundlefly still. At: http://cdn.jamesgunn.com/wp-content/uploads/fly_1_remake.jpg?81196f (Accessed on 04/10/11)

Bibliography
Sommerlad, J. (2009) Celluloid Dreams. http://www.celluloiddreams.co.uk/thefly.html (Accessed on 21/09/11)
Corliss, R. (1986) Love in the Animal Kingdom the Fly In: Time Magazine. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,962069-1,00.html (Accessed on 21/09/11)
James, C. (1986) ‘The Fly’ with Jeff Goldblum In: The New York Times. http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9A0DE0D71438F936A2575BC0A960948260 (Accessed on 21/09/11)

3 comments:

  1. *while the metaphor used is wild and improbable, the underlying themes are relevant even today.*

    *Rather than a clean theriocephalic hybridisation as in the Kurt Neumann version of the film, Cronenberg instead makes Brundle’s transformation slow and agonising as his very body turns against him...*

    nice, nice, nice. This is very satisfying precis, Meg - good choice of quotes, intelligent analysis - and a clear, confident voice. You write engagingly too. Very encouraging - but hey, humour me, get those images in there - wimp! ;)

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  2. Thanks Phil! And all right, all right. But if I have nightmares for the rest of my life I'm blaming you! XD

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  3. charge me for the therapy sessions that follow...

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