The Dream is Over, and the Insect is Awake.

Posted: April 25, 2013 in Movie Time!, Uncategorized
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fly_posterBehind the scenes, busy working on the book, and setting up a pivotal, fact-finding interview to add historical accuracy and intellectual/emotional honesty. In the meantime, my new piece is up at Zombie Hamster, where I take a look at both incarnations of The Fly:

A Corruption of the Flesh

This article was a labor of love, and I hope to eventually incorporate it into a larger work covering David Cronenberg’s “Body Horror” oeuvre. The Fly is a masterpiece, and is an absolute favorite of mine. The essay also follows below.

A scientist experiments with the transference of matter from one place to another, with calamitous results. This is the basic plot of the 1958 film The Fly, as well as the 1986 remake of the same name.

The monster films of the 1950s share a common thread, that of technology advancing beyond morality, a grim side effect of the atomic age, when we were starting to see the results of the hydrogen bombs being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki which effectively ended Japan’s involvement in World War II. In Kurt Neumann’s The Fly, scientist Andre Delambre (David Hedison) tinkers with moving objects through space, inadvertently trapping a fly in the teleportation chamber with him.

What results are two separate beings sharing a single fractured psyche, each with aspects of the other, and much of the film is dedicated to rejoining the beings, in hope that the accident will be reversed. Delambre’s lab is a wonderland of 1950s neon kitsch, with no explanation for the myriad machinery and electronics that occupy the space, further reinforcing the idea that science itself may be the problem.

As is expected of movies of that age, the 1958 film doesn’t show us the result of this mishap until well near the end, as Delambre struggles to maintain his humanity despite the rampant overtaking of his body and mind by the foreign invader. It could be suggested that in 1958, the United States was still in ideological battle over its citizens’ hearts and minds over the “Red Menace” of Communism and that the invasion of the fly into Delambre makes a compelling analog for comparison. That the story takes place in Montreal is an interesting device, as one could plausibly deny that since it happens in another country, it has nothing to do with America’s fear of a Communist takeover.

In David Cronenberg’s version of the story, we have physicist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) working on teleportation in his warehouse home / laboratory. Brundle is socially awkward, but manages to lure journalist Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis) back to his place, where he shows her the ‘telepods’ he has constructed which, while successful at moving inanimate objects, prove catastrophic when it comes to living things. In other words, the computer doesn’t quite understand matters of the flesh. By comparison, it should be noted that this time, the lab equipment consists of a computer and the two telepods; in this incarnation, the theme is one of interpersonal relationships and the loss of the self, rather than technology run amok.

Through the developing romance between the two, Brundle has a breakthrough that leads to successful teleportation. However, in a moment of jealous pique, Brundle attempts to teleport himself, not realizing that a house fly is trapped in the pod with him. Rather than move the two independent beings through space, the computer merges them at the molecular level. Soon enough, it is obvious that something has gone terribly wrong, as Brundle changes mentally and physically, slowly and painfully becoming neither man nor insect but, rather, an entirely new entity: the Brundlefly. What follows is an examination of the deterioration of not just a person, but also of a relationship.

Upon its release, The Fly was perceived as a statement of the recently emerged AIDS epidemic, and while the analogy possibly bears weight, I see it more as a study of the effects of mental illness or addiction, the toll it takes on relationships, and the eventual loss of the self – not just the afflicted individual, but also the loss of self on the part of the person involved with them. I also see it as one of the best and most tragic love stories ever committed to film. Being in orbit around one another from day to day, the gradual decline of a loved one isn’t always obvious to their partner. By the time it becomes apparent, the sickness is already firmly entrenched and there comes a point when one realizes that to remain will be at their peril. When does the instinct for survival override the dedication of love? Given the sobering statistics relating to domestic violence, it is a valid question, and likely will remain so for a long time to come.

Seth Brundle’s degeneration is brutally graphic, and the danger he comes to represent is universally understood. While we may scream at Veronica to run away, just run away, how long would we stay in a similar situation? This is the question at the core of Cronenberg’s tale, and it is a question to which the answer does not come easily, for it forces the viewer to examine one’s own beliefs, convictions, and interpretation of the concept of love. The Fly is an essential part of Cronenberg’s canon, dealing with mutation and the loss of control over one’s mind and body, which is a central thesis in most of his films of that era.

Both films address the loss of the individual and the erosion of both the psyche and the physical state; however, this is where the similarities end. In 1958, the overriding message is a cautionary tale against the progression of science without consideration for morality and ethics (and possibly the invasion of foreign ideologies) whereas in 1986, the story is deeply personal and thus more horrifying. For that reason, David Cronenberg’s film reaches emotional depths that movie studios of the 1950s were not willing to attempt in horror films, and audiences were not likely to connect with, since such films were considered the domain of the younger crowd.

Having seen The Fly upon its initial release, I can attest to the powerful emotions and devastating intensity the film conveyed. Yes, several people ran out of the theatre due to the graphic imagery but by story’s end, there were more than a few teary eyes in the house.

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