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The Fly

September 12, 2010

Everybody’s a mad scientist, and life is their lab. We’re all trying to experiment to find a way to live, to solve problems, to fend off madness and chaos.- David  Cronenberg

PS:  Spoilers  in  the  post,  certain key  sequences  and  scenes  discussed  here.
In one of  the  later  scenes  in  The   Fly,  the  protagonist  Seth Brundle( Jeff  Goldblum) who by now  has  acquired  the characteristic of  a  fly,   goes on a  solitary  tour  over the city  rooftops.  All by  himself,  as  he  climbs  walls, leaps  over rooftops,  hangs  upside down  and  scurries  over  the  girders  of  a  bridge.  It  is  an  intensely  personal  moment,  shot  in a  beautiful  montage,  and  it  is something  must  off  us  would  have given an  arm  for. I  mean,  just  imagine,  a  beautiful  moonlight  night,  and  you roam  all over the city,  unobserved,  eavesdropping on people, jumping across rooftops.  For  a brief  moment  you  are  the  king  of  the  city  roofs,  and  then  the  bitter  reality  strikes  in.  It is one of  the  most  personal  moments  in a  horror  movie,  of  the  protagonist  enjoying  his  new  found  power, before  the  bitter  reality  strikes  in  a rather  gruesome  manner.
The  Fly  is  not  just  a  “Body  Horror” gore  fest,  of  the  hero  mutating,  due  to an  error,  in  effect  it is more of a  Greek  tragedy  and  a psychological  drama. Yes  the  last  20  minutes  turns  out to be one  of  the  most horrifying,  repulsive  spectacle  on  screen, guaranteed  to  make  you  squirm  in  your  seats, or  maybe on  your  couch/bed  if  you are watching it  on a  DVD.  But  at  a more  deeper  level, The  Fly is  a strong  statement  against  super heroism,  of  how  having  what  seems  a  “gift”  could  eventually turn  out to be  a  “curse”   in  itself.  And  this  is  something  quite  common to  most  of   David  Cronenberg’s movies, in  Scanners  the  gift  of  telepathy  and  telekinesis,  is sought  to be exploited by  the  corporations for their own selfish  purposes,  while   Christopher  Walken’s psychic  powers   eventually turn out to be  his  own  worst  enemy  in  The Dead Zone.
The  Fly  is  what  it  would  have  been  if   Peter  Parker,   after  being   bitten  by  a radioactive  spider,  ends  up  mutating  into a  giant  spider,  instead  of  turning  into  Spiderman.  In this  case  Peter  Parker,  takes on the persona  of   Seth  Brundle,  a shy  nerdy,  scientist,  obsessed  with  his  latest  project.  And  like  most  other  scientists,  he  feels  that  this  could  be one  of  those  that  “could change  the world”,  as  he  confides  in the  reporter  Veronica  Quaife( Geena  Davis). The  first  scene,  where   Seth,  demonstrates   his  telepod  to her is well  set up.  Initially  dismissive  and  sceptical,  when  she  sees  the  effect  of   the  experiment,  her  entire  attitude  changes.  She  knows  that  she is  on to something  big.

I’ve been working alone too long. I have a strong urge, uh,to talk about what I’m doing. But, um, if this gets out now… Veronica, it’ll kill me. The Bartok people’ll kill  me… my colleagues’ll kill me. It’s not ready yet.

One  interesting  aspect  of  the  Fly  is  the  presence  of  Bartok  corporation  in  the  background.   At  no  point in  the  movie  is  the  company  explicitly  shown, but  it’s  presence  keeps  hovering,  mostly  through  Seth.  It is  clear  that  once  Bartok  feels   Seth’s  utility  is  outlived,   he  would  be  bumped off.   Something  he  himself  knows  quite too well, and  that  is  why  he  really  does not  want  to  let  the world  know  of   his  work.   Again  one  more  constant  theme,  that  runs  across  most  Cronenberg  movies,  is  his   stridently  anti  corporation stance.   In  Scanners, it  was  the  corporation  misusing  the  telepathic  powers,   in  Videodrome,  again it  was  the  Govt-Corporation nexus,  coming up with a rather  sinister  conspiracy  and in  Existenz,  the  entire  plot  revolves  around  the rivalry between two  organic  virtual  reality  gaming companies    trying  to  “distort reality”, while  a 3rd force  fights  their  attempts.

And I’m beginning to think that the sheer process of being taken apart atom by atom and put back together again, why  it’s like coffee being put through a filter. It’s somehow a purifying process. It’s purified me, it’s cleansed me. And I   tell you, I think it’s going to allow me to realise the personal potential, I’ve been neglecting all these years.  That I’ve been obsessively pursuing goal after goal.

The key  to  creating  a great  horror  movie  is  in  the  build  up,  the  small moments,  that   contribute  to  the  overall   feeling.   Something  Cronenberg  does  quite  effectively,  as in here,  where  he  depicts  the  small hairs  growing  on  Brundle’s  bare  back.  But  it  is  the  following  sequence  of  scenes,  that  effectively  set  up  the  process of  transformation.    Brundle  is  now  more  energetic,  more  stronger,  and  he  does  not seem to tire  of  making  love  continously.  Veronica  however  is  concerned,  earlier  on  she  had  noted  him  filling  his  cup to the brim with sugar,  and  now  she  notices  the  hairs on his back growing much coarser.

You’re afraid to dive into the plasma pool, aren’t you? You’re afraid to be destroyed and recreated, aren’t you? I’ll bet you think that you woke me up about the flesh,don’t you? But you only know society’s straight line about the flesh. You can’t penetrate beyond society’s sick gray fear of the flesh! Drink deep or taste not the plasma spring!

Brundle’s  downfall  is  not  just  due  to  the tiny  mistake  he  made,  it  is  in  equal  part to his  blinded  vanity. The refusal  to see  the  truth,  the  path  on  which  he  is  hurtling down.   So  drunk  with  the success  of  his  “experiment”  is  Brundle  that   he  is unaware, that  the  very  “power”  he is  boasting  about  is  going to prove  his  nemesis.  Veronica’s  sensible  advice,  is  contemptuously  brushed  aside  as  mere  jealousy.   On  the  other  side is  Veronica,  initially  an  admirer  of  Seth’s   experiments,  she  becomes  a mute  witness  to  his  horrifying  transformation. But  it  is  in  the  last  20  odd  minutes,  that  Veronica’s  character  comes  into her own.   Add  to  it  she  also  has  to deal with  her  editor  Stathis  Boran(John  Getz),  her  editor, and an  opportunistic  sleaze  pot.  Someone who  seeks to exploit  Brundle’s  story  for  publicity,  and  lusts  after  Veronica.  Watch  out  for  the  last  20  minutes  of  the movie,  when their  three  lives  collide  with  devastating  results.
The  Fly like  most of   Cronenberg’s   movies  is  not  an  easy  watch.  Most  of  the  scenes  showing   Brundle’s  transformation,  are  done  with  make up,  and  not  much  special  effects, and  the   raw, realistic  feel,  can  be  quite  unsettling.   Especially  in  the  scene, where  Brundle  finds  the legs  coming  out  of  his  torso,  can be quite  a flincher.  Subtlety  is  not  one  of  Cronenberg’s  strong  points,  and  most  of  his  movies  have the  kind  of  the scenes,  that  could  just   make  you  turn  your  head  away or flinch.
But  it  is  not  just  the   gore  and  skin peeling off   scenes,it   is  the  more  deeper  horror  involved,  of  the protagonist,  rushing  headlong  into  destruction.  You  walk out  of  a  Cronenberg  movie,  unsettled   not  just  by  the gore,  but   also  by  the  rather  dark  cynical  tone.  And  that is  what   differentiates  his  movies  from  the standard  torture  porn  fests  like  Hostel  or Saw, his  exploration of  the  human pysche.
For  that  reason  alone  The  Fly  is  worth a watch.  And  the  movie  is  bookended  by  two  brilliant  performances, but  actors,  whom  i  consider  quite  underrated.  Jeff  Goldblum,  is  first  rate  as  Seth  Brundle,  the  protagonist  who  transforms  into the Fly, combining  child like innocence  with  a  wilful  arrogance,  and  then  his  expressions  in  the later  stages  are  poignant.  He  makes us  empathize  for  the  disfigured  character,  without  playing too much to the galleries. Geena  Davis,  again  another  underrated  performer,  is  brilliant,  especially  in the  final  scenes, when her character  undergoes  the  emotional  tumult.  And not  to forget  Cronenberg’s  long time collaborator, composer Howard  Shore, providing  an  unforgettable  music score.

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