The Fly (1986) (R)

David Cronenberg has never been one to shy away for the sake of placating the censors or his audience. You should know what you're getting into when you go into one of his movies. Most of his movies have a transformative nature, and I mean that in the most physical sense. In "Videodrome"...well, let's not revisit that. Let's just say that when you're dealing with classic Cronenberg horror (and "horror" seems like the most applicable word), you should probably go in on an empty stomach.
"The Fly" as with some of Cronenberg's other movies, has an almost unbearably sweet beginning that opposes the gritty and visceral, nauseating end scenes.
I find that most of Cronenberg's movies (at least the ones that I have seen) seem to exist only in the movie. This means that we get no backstory, no character background before we enter into the story— for example, we are thrown to the middle of a conversation in "The Fly". The two characters talking are right in the middle of nothing important. Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum), a quirky and likable scientist is flirting with a woman at a convention of some sorts. He tells her that he has an invention that will change humanity as we know it. She blows him off, but he's persistent enough to bring her back to his apartment, a dingy looking building that holds his laboratory. The woman, later known as Veronica (Geena Davis) is a journalist, though Seth is too naive to realize this.
So he shows her his miraculous invention—a teleportation machine. He takes her hose and transports it. Naturally, she is skeptical to the idea of teleportation and even when confronted with the evidence, she has a hard time defining it in her head. But she flips on her recorder and then starts asking him questions and he realizes that he's hit a wall. He has awoken a journalist's curiosity and that is something that won't die. Try as he might to plead with her, she goes to her editor—who also happens to be her ex—Stathis (John Getz) and tells him about her transporting lingerie. He doesn't believe it and calls Seth a con man.
Seth calls on Veronica and buys her lunch and then presents his problem to her—he can't transport anything alive. If it's an inanimate object, no problem; but when it comes to a live animal—like a baboon that is cruelly tested on in the movie—it has...reversal effects. It turns the poor thing inside out and explodes its guts over the place, which reminds us of a scene from "Galaxy Quest" that was much more comical than this.
That being said, there is a dark side of humor to "The Fly" that makes us laugh because we don't know how else to handle the situation.
Veronica is addicted to fame as Seth is. He wants the Nobel and she wants to be famous for breaking the story on teleportation; yet it isn't hubris that motivates both of them...there is something more...fleshy here. The long talks about flesh make me think of "Videodrome"—long live the new flesh.
It only takes copulation a few times before Seth realizes what he's been missing in his code and plugs that in. Then he tries it out on that poor baboon's brother and nothing bad happens. After a few drinks of alcohol and isolation, he decides to try it out on himself...but he doesn't make it into the telepod by himself. He is accompanied, without his knowledge, with a fly.
The result is very, very nasty, increasingly so with each passing scene.
But what Cronenberg is makes us sympathize with the victim and the aggresor. The human is a monster, but the monster is not human.
"The Fly" won the Oscar for makeup, mainly because it still looks almost flawless. You can hardly find any mistakes, though I'm not sure you'd want to look too hard for it.
Yet the movie is functional beyond its makeup. It tells a tale of a man obsessed and although it was based on a 50s movie of the same name, Cronenberg drastically alters it into a doomed romance and reminds us that he should never be questioned behind the lens.

Score: ★★★½

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