THE FLY The Cutting Room - Episode 7 Joseph Christiana 3/31/12
“I’m working on something that is going to change the world as we know it.” So says Seth Brundle to open Cronenberg's landmark 1986 film THE FLY. And this isn’t mere hubris- realize that those words just qualified him as a mad scientist and things are actually going to end disastrously.
Like all great technological revolutions, the socially inept Seth Brundel applies his creation first and foremost to aid him in the pursuit of getting laid. The beautiful journalist Veronica Quaife is intrigued so she escorts him to his laboratory where she witnesses an impressive demonstration involving the teleportation of her own silk stocking.
She immediately recognizes this as a hot story but Brundle tells her that she can’t write about his work. Quaife protests, of course, and the pair strike an agreement: if she waits to publish the story, she'll be allowed full access to the project’s development as it progresses toward its goal: the teleportation of human beings.
The telepods aren’t fully operational. They produce horrific results when teleporting living things, as demonstrated in a gruesome scene where a baboon enters one telepod cute and cuddly and emerges from the other inside out, inner organs twitching and bleeding all over Brundle’s beloved technology.
As Brundle seeks and finds solutions to his problem, a steamy romance develops. So when a second baboon is successfully teleported, Brundle is high on both love and science.
But it’s at this crucial moment when a fatal misunderstanding rears its ugly head and Brundle decides to test the telepods on himself in a fit of drunken, unjustified anger.
Unfortunately there's a fly in the telepod and the two creatures—human and insect—are fused on a genetic sub-atomic level. When Quaife returns, things are cleared up romantically, but Brundle begins a metamorphosis that first brings along with it super human powers followed by monstrous transformations, all brilliantly executed by Cronenberg. All as disgusting and terrifying as anything you've ever seen.
Brundle is, however, scientifically elated about these developments until he realizes that “his disease has a purpose.” And that purpose is malevolent indeed. Brundle Fly becomes a danger to himself, his girl, his society.
With the last traces of humanity lingering inside him, the now monstrous Brundle-Fly hatches a half-baked scheme to fuse himself with another human being in order to make him somehow more human. The culminating scene is one of the most shocking and frightening climaxes ever filmed. And possibly one of the most tragic because it’s clear that some humanity lingers even as Brundle emerges from the pod an unrecognizable fusion for human, insect, and machine.
The film borrows its premise from the original 1958 THE FLY starring Vincent Price, but not much else. Instead, Cronenberg takes a healthy helping of artistic license, using the material to mine deeply personal obsessions, most prominently: the horrors of the human body when it's fused with technology. Here those obsessions fully crystallize on screen for the first time in his career.
I shared some of those obsessions as a young man furiously grappling with notions of how computers and technology were changing the way we communicated and lived, the terrors intrinsic in the changes our inventions imposed upon us, and what it meant to be human after our digital transmogrification.
That's a big word but these are big questions, questions that remain potent today as pharmaceutical companies create armies of emotionless zombies running around with boners while technology dwindles our collective attention span to the size of a gnats. We feel more comfortable with the LOL of internet slang than actual discourse with a man made of flesh and blood, and maybe I'm just showing my age, but I can't help but feel that something's dying. That there's something tragic we bring to ourselves with our creations. Something willfully, stupidly sacrificed.
These things are indomitable, I know, so the real question is this: what do we do with the tiny maggot of humanity that lingers still? To find an answer in Cronenberg would depend on an interpretation of the last act of the Brundle: if you take THE FLY as cautionary tale or, indeed, instructive allegory.