The Fly

(David Cronenberg, USA, 1986)

BY VIOLET LUCCA | October 31, 2022

It’s an unfortunate fact of life: even super-smart women sometimes end up with terrible boyfriends. This, along with a very different tragic, universal reality—everyone’s body radically changes and deteriorates with illness and/or age—forms the basis of David Cronenberg’s The Fly. What makes the film a masterpiece, and eminently disturbing, is how these seemingly disparate agonies are tied to the limitations of an ultra-rationalist world—one whose feminist veneer easily peels off to reveal centuries-old white, straight, cis patriarchy.

Ronnie Quaife (Geena Davis) navigates two male-dominated worlds—journalism and science. The former is represented by her asshole editor, Stathis Borans (John Getz),a man who becomes a triple threat of shit when he starts stalking her. Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum), a childlike goofball who also happens to be a genius, seems like a better choice—until, of course, his male ego is bruised and he prematurely tries out his teleportation device. After his brains are quite literally scrambled, Seth becomes obsessed with “purity”—a gentler, kinder eugenics, updated for the 1980s—and slowly, painfully transforms into an unspeakable monster. The sensitive, wide-eyed innocent is destroyed in his pursuit of glory and the perfect rational being. Ronnie’s intelligence and compassion cannot save Seth—or herself.

Ronnie’s complete powerlessness, despite being the least morally compromised person in the lab, reaches a fever pitch after she learns that she’s been impregnated—another universal, horrible, supposedly purifying bodily transformation—by either Seth or Brundlefly. Again, she’s only given two bad, binary choices that unfairly rest with her alone. If the pregnancy is carried to term, it would either preserve some part of Seth’s goodness, or it would perpetuate the insane genetic cock-up he’s created. Any person faced with the choice of terminating a pregnancy that perhaps happened with “the right one at the wrong time” will no doubt relate to Ronnie’s pain and sorrow, and she efficiently communicates to those who oppose abortion the fact that nothing about getting one is fun. Her plaintive plea of “I want it out of my body now!” still fucks me up almost 20 years after I first saw the film (and almost 20 years after my first abortion). Rewatching it now, after the reversal of Roe, is even more devastating.

Still, it’s clear that Ronnie’s desire to get rid of this burdensome foreign body could just as easily pierce the skin of someone who wishes to have, or has had, gender-affirming surgery. This is to say: it’s not just about me, folks. The Fly is one of the rare remakes that vastly improves upon its original, and its ambient sorrow, counterbalanced with some of the decade’s best special effects, is contagious. Feel the pain. 🩸


is Vice President, Digital at Harper’s magazine and a member of the New York Critics Circle.

TWITTER: @unbuttonmyeyes

How to see The Fly

The film has also been released in a variety of DVD and Blu-ray editions.
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