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See the Movie
by Jeff Clark, Media Resources Director/Resident Film Guru

THE FLY
 (Media Resources, Videotape no. 6232)

Since it's still rather soon after Halloween, perhaps a "horror movie" ought to make it into this inaugural column for the newsletter.  So let's pick a fairly recent one, but a great one too.

The Fly is Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg's shrewd remake of the original 1950's American version that starred Vincent Price (you can find this one as Videotape no. 6169). But it's a much more ambitious, intelligent and affecting film.

 Not that this Fly's science is much more plausible, even though it's updated to include speculative fancies about the effects of genetic recombination.  How the predicament that this speculative hook causes is built around two people, makes the film special and suggestive.  Jeff Goldblum is a brilliant, socially awkward and secretive scientist who invents a practical teleportation device. Geena Davis is the science journalist who stumbles upon him and his work, and falls in love with the man. His disastrous experiment--with himself as the guinea pig, spurred on by a lover's insecurity--causes him at first exhilaration and seemingly superhuman physical abilities. but then makes him to undergo an awful, gradual mutation into an alienated creature with fly-like characteristics. The viscous, oozing creature effects may certainly be nausea-inducing-but there's more than meets the eye. 

I recall one critic who, intending cleverness, perhaps spoke more truly than he meant. The Fly is an ill-fated love story, the same old theme: He changes. She doesn't.   

Cronenberg's film is simultaneously a literal and metaphorical realization of this idea, provoking all the feelings that any sympathetic viewer might bring to it from his or her own experience in life. It's just more direct and intense, as art often is. It's also, some have said, a metaphor for our reaction to and experience of disease.  Not necessarily AIDS in particular, but Cronenberg himself has said that the film was a way for him to come to terms with his own father's terrible, wasting illness.

If you view this film first as a story about human beings rather than horror effects, you may find yourself mingled in terror and pity. At one point Goldblum's scientist is revoltingly misshapen and pustulant, his facial appendages starting to rot away. Alarmed, Davis's lover closes the distance between them in a spontaneous embrace, overcome by bewildered fear and love. An unobservant viewer might simply recoil: "Ugh! How can she embrace him like that?!" But if you're in sync with the relationship that the actors and filmmaker have subtly built, you'll at once feel why recoiling can only be a thought-and the overriding embrace is natural, even inevitable. While the film was in production, Davis and Goldblum were becoming a couple for real, and this probably helps their chemistry on screen. 

The Fly has a heartbreaking passage that caps its greatness.  Goldblum is aware that he is about to undergo change beyond the pale, into a realm where he cannot anticipate or control his behaviors as the human being in him once did (that is, as well as any of us imperfectly can, especially under the influence of love). He muses about his fate to lover Davis: "I am a fly who dreamed he was a man, and loved it. But now I'm awake, and a fly again.. You'd better go. I'm afraid I may hurt you." This is a slight paraphrase of the dialogue, but in context of the story that's gone before, with its personal and modern scientific dimensions-not to mention the turned-on-its-head allusion to Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis here-this scene it speaks for seems to crystallize the whole human predicament of the film. and perhaps brings many viewer to tears. 

In short, a great film regardless of genre, and perhaps Cronenberg's first widely acknowledged masterpiece.  (Myself, I'd claim Videodrome (DVD 102) as an earlier one-but that's another story, and perhaps another column commentary.)

 

E-mail comments and questions to:
clarkeke@jmu.edu

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