David Cronenberg is one of the most celebrated cinematic auteurs of the body horror sub genre, while Jeff Goldblum is well-known for his irreverent, zany personality. It may seem odd to pair these two today, but in the mid-1980s, that exact pairing came together. The Fly (1986) was a remake of a 1958, b-horror movie, and unlike the original film, Cronenberg’s remake exists in a world all its own as a rare example of a remake outshining an original film. For Cronenberg, the film was a commercial success, which is something he had yet to achieve since his film career began in the mid-1970s. For Goldblum, the film was one of his first leading roles, and a rare example of a purely dramatic, intense, and wholly unique performance that deserved Oscar recognition. Both artists have gone on to make and give incredible films and performances in the 35 years since the film’s release, but in many ways, The Fly remains their defining opus. Let’s take a closer look.
Cronenberg’s Most Successful Film
David Cronenberg’s singular style, and his ability to make audiences recoil at their own discomfort were never likely to yield strong box office results, but this did happen once with The Fly. This movie turned Cronenberg into a household name for horror aficionados, and the praise was felt even in highbrow circles. Critics raved about the film thanks to its polarizing techniques that forced audiences to feel the emotions of a character that is literally rotting on the screen as he transforms into a fly/human hybrid. Thanks to the film’s nauseating special effects and heavy themes, it quickly gained a cult status that it holds to this day. After The Fly, Cronenberg would continue to fulfill his vision largely through independent film as he likely sensed that his mainstream appeal was only ever going to be a short-lived trend. The complexity of his stories and filmmaking style would not survive in mainstream Hollywood. But his most financially successful film is also arguably his best, and it’s a rare feat that a bold and audacious filmmaker could fulfill his/her vision on a Hollywood budget.
Jeff Goldblum’s Towering, Mesmerizing Performance
Jeff Goldblum is both a fantastic actor and an alluring personality. Rather he is playing Dr. Ian Malcolm in the Jurassic Park universe or, narrating about a wide array of gadgets and scientific topics in Disney plus’s The World According to Jeff Goldblum, there is something instantly watchable and magnetic about his personality. His performance in The Fly has all of the traits we have come to know of Goldblum, but he is also incredibly intense and believable in the scenes where he has to wear heavy FX makeup and prosthetics. Goldblum makes Seth Brundle a burgeoning genius, but also a loose canon in terms of his inability to curb his innate scientific curiosities. Geena Davis plays his love interest Ronnie, and she is equally as memorable when playing off some of Brundle’s far-out mannerisms and ideas. This is Goldblum’s best performance because he is all Jeff Goldblum in it, but also something more sinister and dangerous.
The Movie Is a Metaphor for Aging and Disease
The experience of watching The Fly is an exercise that invokes a wide range of emotional responses in the viewer. First, Cronenberg never shies away from repulsive and grotesque imagery. Brundlefly decomposes on screen with superb practical effects, made all the more unique since this is a drama film juxtaposed with certifiably horrific, gross-out imagery. Seth’s transformation is an example of transgressive symbolism at a time when sexual pleasure could result in excruciating pain and physical metamorphosis if you contracted the HIV virus. Ronnie’s love for Seth is still fresh and blissful when he begins to transform, and her tears and grief at experiencing this are not unlike couples being torn apart by a virus that cares nothing about love and the fragility of life. Additionally, body horror is one of Cronenberg’s specialties, and the gruesome imagery of a body decomposing in real-time is not unlike the human aging process itself. For all the brilliant ideas and innovations that humans lay claim to, there is no cure for the decay of the flesh.
Consider the film’s climax when Brundlefly begins to absorb the primal and violent nature of an insect. Ronnie discovers that she is pregnant, and the fear of giving birth to an organism like Brundlefly has her seeking an abortion. This speaks to the divided opinion on abortion in America, and a woman’s right to choose to do what is best for her body and her life. Or, the scene where Brundlefly spews acidic bile on a handful of donuts; his ear falls off in the process, and Ronnie’s disgust turns to sadness. This allows the audience to view the film from her emotional response.
The Movie is Remake-Proof
Many people feel like The Fly needs a reboot, but it would be impossible and pointless to try and recreate Cronenberg’s singular style and aesthetic employed in the film. I think that Cronenberg made this film to satisfy his love of b-horror films from his youth, and as a way to apply his style, substance, narrative technique, and aura to a horror story for the ages. That cannot be replicated. This film proves that even with gross-out horror, and indeed, incredibly violent and visceral horror, thematic elements of heavy emotions and human struggles are very much part of the horror film world. Remaking The Fly would be derivative since this is a horror film that opened the doors for the freedom we see in horror storytelling today. The Fly is too much for some to take, and I cannot say that I disagree with this as there are many nauseating scenes made all the more so by Cronenberg’s frank and non-humorous approach to the imagery. This film is deadly serious, and there is nothing in it to spare the doomed and tragic conclusion that we can sense is coming as we go along for the ride.