As with so many of David Cronenberg’s films, the human body serves not only as the unwilling hero of The Fly, but also the film’s ultimate antagonist. Less a temple and more a battleground, the human form stands dead at the film’s centre, finding itself probed by science; caressed by romance; and vilified by disease. Flesh is the page upon which Cronenberg prints his words and draws his scenes, and the film ultimately becomes about the myriad of ways in which the body can not only betray but transcend itself.
Of course, The Fly is also at its heart a love story, albeit a doomed one. One of the film’s very great strength is its genuine pathos, as the relationship between the odd, charismatic Seth Brundle (played by the odd, charismatic Jeff Goldblum) and the intelligent, immensely likeable Veronica Quaife (played by the intelligent, immensely likeable Geena Davis) falls victim to the infidelity of Brundle’s flesh.
The plot will be familiar to many: Brundle and Quaife meet; Brundle invents a teleportation machine; Brundle experiments on himself, only to unwillingly splice his own genes with a fly; Brundle begins to transform. As many critics have pointed out, Cronenberg keeps the plot threadbare enough that viewers can project whatever affliction they like upon Brundle. It has been suggested by some that his increasingly yicky mutations are stand ins for the AIDS virus; by others that the transformation represents the development of cancer.
That said, whatever Brundle’s mutations represent are ultimately beside the point. Cronenberg isn’t interested in specifics: he’s interested in exploring whether or not love can transcend the boundaries of the physical and time dependent, in the process truly reaching the dizzying heights that poetry places it at. Because he’s not – and never has been – a schmaltzy romantic, he doesn’t seem to entirely believe it will. But he’s not a total cynic, either, and though it moves through increasingly visceral, increasingly horrific territory, the ending is all things considered an optimistic one. Cronenberg doesn’t totally absolve us of the sins of our flesh, but he doesn’t empathise with us for having them, and he ends the film with a subtle note of faith.
The Fly is a remarkable film. It is the finest remake ever put to screen – a film that extends its source material to places the original dared not go – and, just as importantly, it is a vivid love story unlike any other. Though at one point Quaife makes the memorable plea that one must be afraid (“very afraid”) The Fly is less interested in terror and more interested in the humans’ trapped in terror’s grip