Film / The Fly (1986)
"Be afraid. Be very afraid."

"What am I working on? Uhh... I'm working on something that will change the world, and human life as we know it."
Seth Brundle (opening line of the film)

The Fly (1986), the David Cronenberg version, is an adaptation of a 1957 short story of the same name. This was the second adaptation after The Fly (1958).

This time, mild-mannered but brilliant quantum physicist Seth Brundle (played by Jeff Goldblum) is on the cusp of perfecting his matter transporter after meeting reporter Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis), the love of his life. The happiness is too good to last, as he is accidentally fused with a common housefly on a molecular-genetic level in a seemingly successful transportation experiment. Rather than creating an immediate monster, Veronica now must cope with the pain of watching her lover literally fall apart on a physical and emotional level, and the awful uncertainty of whether the child inside her was conceived before or after the fateful transportation...

It was followed by a sequel, The Fly II.

This film provides examples of:

  • Adorkable: Seth. Being a scientist played by Jeff Goldblum, it's pretty much a given.
  • Adult Fear:
  • Alcohol-Induced Idiocy: Brundle's decision to test the teleporter using himself comes after he's had more than a few drinks.
  • All There in the Manual: According to the script, Stathis goes skeet shooting, which is why he had a shotgun on hand for the film’s climax.
  • Art Major Biology:
    • Brundle's mishap results from the computer's confusion at the presence of an extra genetic pattern, and its attempt to rectify the situation by fusing them. This conveniently ignores all the genetic material belonging to the bacteria and other microorganisms that make up a sizable proportion of the human body. Probably Artistic License, as otherwise there is no movie. (Though, it could be argued that the fly's genetic structure was sufficiently complex to confuse the computer, while nascent organisms were considered a part of the human body.)
    • Seth's body weight would not allow him to Wall Crawl, even if his bones were hollow at the time.
  • Artistic License – Awards: Seth is mentioned as having nearly won a Nobel Prize. Nominees are not publicly announced and all nomination records are kept secret for fifty years, though it's certainly possible Seth's name was leaked.
  • Author Appeal: Anyone who's watched enough Cronenberg's films can see his love of the concept of the flesh, sex, and machine.
  • Beast and Beauty: Sort of. Brundlefly and Veronica, although her feelings for him are more like compassion than love.
  • Bloodier and Gorier: Flies eat by vomiting acid. David "head explodey" Cronenberg is behind a giant fly movie. Do the math.
  • Body Horror: Just about all of the pain and horror that Seth has to endure through his slow and humiliating metamorphosis. Cronenberg told the makeup team to think of the transformation process as a form of cancer, and it shows.
  • Break the Cutie: Seth.
  • Canada, Eh?: While the setting is never explicitly discussed by the characters, the CN Tower, Kensington Market, and various other Toronto landmarks are shown throughout the film.
    • Lingo-savvy viewers will note that the local barfly in the arm-wrestling scene uses the Canadian term "chocolate bars" instead of the American "candy bars."
  • Character Tics: Seth bites his fingernails when he’s nervous, which eventually makes him realize that something went wrong when he teleported. As the transformation progresses, he develops a fly-like twitch.
  • Clingy Jealous Guy: Stathis does not take Veronica moving on from their breakup well. In addition to attempting to sabotage her and Seth's relationship, he invites himself into her apartment to use her shower when she's away and repeatedly makes lascivious comments towards her. When Seth abducts Veronica from the abortion clinic, rather than calling the police, Stathis shows up to Seth's lab with a shotgun! However, the last note is justified as Seth has become a dangerous monstrosity threat when he kidnapped Veronica and brought the shotgun to defend her from Seth before any harm comes to her, when Seth reveals his plan to be "the ultimate family" by fusing himself and Veronica, you can't blame him for arming himself when rescuing her.
  • Clipped-Wing Angel: When the Brundlefly ends up getting fused with part of the telepod, leaving it helpless and in terrible, dying pain, although it's clear that it was already a physically and mentally unstable creature before that.
  • Crazy Consumption: Seth's appetite grows exponentially, especially for sugary foods. To say nothing of how he eventually has to break his food down to eat it...
  • Creator Cameo: David Cronenberg appears as a doctor in Veronica's "maggot baby" nightmare.
  • Cursed with Awesome: Even though the transformation makes Seth a diseased mutant, he gains several abilities, such as wallcrawling, corrosive vomit, and superhuman strength. It's unclear what the end result of Seth's changes would have been. The state he ultimately reaches (where he wordlessly begs for death by placing the muzzle of a shotgun to his own head) has at least as much to do with being caught partially outside the teleport pod when it activates as with having genetic problems.
  • Darker and Edgier: Complete with Body Horror and nightmares!
  • Decoy Protagonist: Initially, the film follows Seth and his slow transformation into an insect hybrid, however, when he becomes a Tragic Monster near and at the climax, Veronica is the true protagonist of the film.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Cronenberg stated the film was an allegory for getting old. This being The '80s, many critics and fans analogized the film with the AIDS epidemic.
  • Doomed Protagonist: One of the most agonizing examples.
  • Downer Ending: If you couldn't guess. Seth mutates near-completely, goes insane, and nearly kills his girlfriend. Stathis manages to subdue him, and he enters the pod once more, returning as a horrible, mangled jumble of organs, steel rebar and blood. He begs wordlessly for Veronica to end his suffering, and she complies.
  • Drunk with Power / Sanity Slippage: Seth suffers this. At first.
  • Everything's Better with Monkeys: For all this film's darkness and horror, it does have a scene of Jeff Goldblum hugging a baboon...and the baboon has a constant erection in the film. Just listen to the film commentary.
  • Exact Words: When the computer says there was a secondary element in the teleportation, Seth asks what it was. The computer can only respond with "Secondary Element is Not-Brundle."
  • Expositron 9000: Brundle's computer.
  • Eye Scream: When Brundlefly's face is peeled off to reveal his hideous form, his human eyes ooze away like pus.
  • Famous Last Words: "We'll be the ultimate family! A family of three... joined together... in one body. More human than I am alone!!" Seth, after explaining his last-ditch desperate plan to Veronica and right before his final, painful, transformation.
  • Fan Disservice: The rough and animalistic sex scenes after Seth combines with the fly.
  • Fanservice:
  • Fetus Terrible: The three-foot-long, blood and amniotic fluid-covered maggot Veronica sees in her nightmare.
  • Fingore: After throwing out Veronica, Seth bites his fingernails in frustration...only for them to start peeling off. This snaps him back to his senses and makes him realize that something did go wrong during the teleportation.
  • Focus Group Ending: The focus groups hated all of the possible endings, which included Veronica ending up with Stathis and the "Butterfly Baby." The cast wasn't real crazy about the various endings either; even Jon Getz, the actor who played Stathis, didn't want Veronica to end up with Stathis. Instead, the film closed on a weeping Veronica, which was really the proper ending to the film.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The opening line of the film (see page quote) foreshadows the entirety of Seth’s transformation. What he’s working on certainly changes his world and life as he knows it.
    • Seth rolling onto a circuit board and getting a nasty cut on his back, which foreshadows him being betrayed by his own technology.
    • Seth mentions earlier because of his motion sickness he had vomited on his tricycle as a child, then during his transformation, he has gained the ability to vomit corrosive substance to digest food.
  • From Bad to Worse: Seth’s progression into Brundlefly, with each new shot of him more disgusting than the last.
  • Full-Frontal Assault: By the film's climax, Brundle has stopped wearing clothes. Barbie Doll Anatomy is in effect however, due to his genitals being part of the "history museum" in his medicine cabinet.
  • Gallows Humor: Seth makes numerous darkly humorous comments as his transformation progresses.
    ”I know an old lady who swallowed a fly, perhaps she’ll die.”
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: The premise of the entire film.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Almost averted. Veronica goes into panicked hysterics after seeing Seth's disgusting metamorphosis and Stathis immediately rushes her to an abortion clinic. At the end of the movie, it's implied that she probably will, but if we're going to consider the sequel canon, then she clearly didn't, because the sequel is about their son.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: By proxy, Corrupt Corporate Executive Anton Bartok, the head of Bartok Industries and Seth Brundle's employer who helped financed his experiments that is what led Seth to slowly turn into a human fly and would later become the Big Bad in the sequel by trying to deliberately repeat the flaw to create fly hybrid soldiers for his company, would count despite the character not being formulated until the sequel.
  • Groin Attack: A horrifically and unintentionally self-inflicted one - quite possibly the most humiliating aspect of the mutation is that poor Seth's penis and testicles fall off as part of his degeneration into Brundlefly.
  • The Grotesque: Seth slowly becomes this.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Brundlefly.
  • Hero Antagonist: Stathis Borans acts as this to Seth Brundle's Villain Protagonist. He initially started as a typical Crazy Jealous Guy antagonist, but then gradually begins to play this role straight, especially at the climax when he comes to Veronica's rescue after she gets kidnapped by Brundlefly.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: A subtle one, as Seth is merged with his own telepod at the very end. Not only karmic as he was trying to use the pods to merge himself with Veronica and the unborn child, but also sort of Gaia's Vengeance from the start.
  • Hollywood Nerd: At the beginning of the movie, Mr. Brundle is quite muscular for a scientist who doesn't get out much. Not that any of the female viewers are complaining, or anything.
  • Hot And Cold: Veronica Quaife
  • Hotter and Sexier: Thanks to The '80s.
  • I Am a Monster: Seth basically warns Veronica of this in his "insect politics" speech.
  • I Cannot Self-Terminate: Seeing the pathetic creature that was once Seth Brundle crawl out of the Telepod, fused with pieces of machinery and in horrifying agony, is probably sadder than watching the end of Old Yeller. This can obviously end only one way, and, in one final display of humanity, Brundlefly silently begs a shotgun-armed Veronica to end its life, and after some painful hesitation, she does.
  • I'd Tell You, but Then I'd Have to Kill You: After bringing Veronica back to his lab for the first time, Seth jokingly says that he can't let her leave the room alive now that she's seen the telepods, even though she has no idea what they are or what they do.
  • Idiot Ball: Whichever way you slice it, going after a deranged half-human hybrid that vomits acid and has double the strength of a normal man by yourself is a pretty stupid move. All Stathis Borans needed to do was phone 911 and tell them that a deranged ex-boyfriend abducted his girlfriend from the abortion clinic in a blind rage - the gaping hole in the surgery wall should be fairly adequate proof. However, to be fair to him, Stathis understandably thought the police would never believe that said crazed ex-boyfriend was a fly-hybrid monster with super strength. Just a few minutes before he was having a hard time explaining to the abortion doctor Brent just why Veronica needed the abortion immediately in the middle of the night, since he couldn't straight up tell him the baby could be a fly monster, fathered by another fly monster; Brent would think they were both crazy. Also, even if he phoned the police, he most likely knew by the time they got to Seth's apartment it would have been too late for Veronica, so he might as well get there first as fast as he can with or without backup before anything horrible happens to her. Though, Stathis didn't go unarmed, bringing a shotgun with him.
  • In-Name-Only: There's a scientist who gets turned into a fly monster in a teleportation experiment. Other than that, it really has nothing to do with the Vincent Price film and even less to do with Langelaan's story. This is not necessarily a bad thing.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Stathis Borans, Veronica's ex-boyfriend and boss, appears to be just an asshole who's still bitter about their break-up, but he doesn't hesitate in helping her get to an abortionist when she decides to get rid of Seth's baby, and he comes to the rescue when Brundlefly kidnaps Veronica.
  • Lab Pet: Dr. Brundle is much too attached to his baboons. This leaves him quite distraught when he turns one inside out.
  • LEGO Genetics: Averted, as the change in DNA affects him slowly as his cells replicate, and his final form isn't anything resembling a properly functioning body. (Though being fused with a telepod isn't exactly natural.)
  • Limited Wardrobe: Seth has five identical sets of clothing. He mentions he got the idea from Einstein, who supposedly had five sets of clothes to avoid wasting mental energy on deciding what to wear. Of course, Einstein didn’t have five jackets and five pairs of shoes.
  • Love Triangle: The base emotional plot of Veronica choosing either Seth or Stathis as her lover, intensified when she feels the need to comfort the diseased Seth and finding Stathis' emotional side emerging from the conflict. That's probably why they made it an opera.
  • Merging Machine: Seth finds out that the teleporters will inadvertently merge creatures at the chemical-molecular level if teleported simultaneously because it was only designed to teleport one at a time. Because Seth has much more mass than the fly he has been merged with, the process only gradually mutates him into a man-fly hybrid rather than instantaneously.
  • Mercy Kill: Seth, in horribly dysfunctional part-fly, part-telepod form and incapable of speaking, begs to Veronica to do this to him, which she reluctantly and grief-strickenly does.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: In addition to the obvious, there's also the monkey-cat in a deleted scene (which was cut out as audience would saw it as a major Kick the Dog act from Seth and he would lose all sympathy for that).
  • Metamorphosis: Essentially how Seth goes through his transformation.
  • The Mind Is a Plaything of the Body: Arguably implied by Brundle gradually losing his mind as he turns into a fly.
  • Mythology Gag: Done so subtly that it's easy to overlook; taking that oft-parodied moment from the original where the human-headed fly is caught in the spider web and screaming "Help me! Please, help me!" in its squeaky voice, and turning it into Seth making a desperate plea for help to Veronica, in one of the film's more emotional moments.
  • Nausea Fuel: For the first time since The Exorcist, this movie had people literally leaving the theater before it was over and retching. invoked
  • Nerds Are Sexy: Seth Brundle.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: After Stathis sends Veronica a preliminary magazine cover with Seth and the telepod featured prominently, she leaves to confront him. Which leads to Seth putting two and two together, which leads to Seth getting drunk, which leads to his spur of the moment decision to teleport himself. Nice going, Stathis.
  • Non-Malicious Monster: Brundlefly tries to be this, although he kind of loses it at the movie's climax.
    • Though this wasn't true in the original screenplay, which had him vomiting on a homeless woman and preparing to eat her before he realized what he was doing.
  • Noodle Incident: Seth discovers he can't eat solid food "the hard and painful way". We're never told exactly what happened.
    • To be more specific, he mentions he can chew solid food, but not digest it. Which means the discovery was probably made on a trip to the bathroom.
  • Not His Sled: Played With: when Seth enters the transporter with the fly, he doesn't pop out as a human-fly hybrid... at least not right away. As we later learn, while the fusion did occur, due to it happening on the genetic level, the transformation is taking its time...
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Seth's absolutely horrified reaction to this exchange with his computer.
    Seth: [typing] If secondary element is fly, what happened to fly?
    Computer: Fusion.
    Seth: [typing] Assimilation? Did Brundle absorb fly?
    Computer: Negative. Fusion of Brundle and fly at molecular-genetic level.
    • Stathis' reaction to Veronica announcing she's pregnant with Seth's baby. He initially gives a sarcastic "Oh no," but a few seconds later, the horror truly sinks in.
  • One-Sided Arm-Wrestling: Seth tears open a man's arm doing this.
  • One-Winged Angel: A truly terrifying example in the film's climax; when Veronica rips off the jaw of Brundle's already heavily deteriorated body, it triggers the final phase of his metamorphosis, in which he sheds all of his human skin, including on his head, revealing the fully formed Brundlefly underneath.
  • Painful Transformation: A rare, slow and gradual example. Two, if you count the sequel.
    • Seth's metamorphosis into Brundlefly is an extended, humiliating process where he degenerates from a healthy and muscular man into a diseased monstrosity, his flesh rotting to the point that his extremities fall off (including his teeth, his fingernails, his fingers, his penis...), until his whole formerly-human skin is shed completely and he is ultimately reduced to a voiceless insectoid beast.
  • Phlegmings: Brundlefly excretes a sticky white liquid constantly, which he uses to dissolve and digest his food.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Where to even begin? Might as well be Pyrrhic Victory: The Film.
    • Seth Brundle: He manages to make his experiment work and, in a way, prove everyone wrong in the process. He can finally feel proud. Sadly, this same experiments AND his regained pride cost him a lover, his sanity, and eventually, his life.
    • Veronica "Ronnie" Quaife: Got the story she always wanted and sure, in the end, she survived and was able to give Seth a Mercy Kill. But in the end she had to shoot a person she loved and ended up both pregnant and heavily traumatized. If you take the sequel into account, it also eventually claimed her life because she dies during childbirth.
    • Stathis Borans: JESUS H. CHRIST. He proved his point of Seth being dangerous... ruining everybody's life in the process, including both his own and his ex-girlfriend's which he wanted back into his life. Sure, at the end he managed to save Ronnie and Get The Girl, but at a cost of both an arm and a leg. If one takes the sequel into account it only gets much worse, since he is not only forced into an early retirement, but also the person he saved and still cares for dies in front of him and he's unable to do a thing about it. And then Seth's and Veronica's son, the son of the man that took his arm and leg, the same baby that Veronica died giving birth to, comes begging for help...
  • Precision F-Strike: Delivered by Seth after the disastrous first attempt at baboon teleportation.
    Ronnie: The world would wanna know what you're thinking.
    Seth: Fuck! is what I'm thinking.
  • Romantic Fusion: Brundle wants to do this with Veronica and their unborn child. Naturally, with him being a disgusting half-fly Humanoid Abomination, she does not want to go through with it.
  • Sanity Slippage: Brundle's gradual transformation and his futile attempts to reverse it eventually drive him insane, to the point where he decides that the best way to reclaim his humanity is to fuse himself, Veronica, and their unborn baby into "the ultimate family."
    • He lampshades it in his "insect politics" speech, describing himself as "an insect who dreamt he was a man and loved it. But now the dream is over... and the insect is awake."
  • Sex God: Brundlefly becomes a sexual athlete. Subverted in that Veronica can't keep up and it becomes an unpleasant experience.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: Several of these with Seth and Veronica. One with Seth and Tawny.
  • Shirtless Scene
  • Shout-Out: Seth's "I'm an insect who dreamt he was a man and loved it. But now the dream is over... and the insect is awake" is a reference to Zhuangzi's famous philosophical statement:
    "Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Chou. Soon I awakened, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man."
  • Show Some Leg: When Seth asks for an item he can use to demonstrate how the telepods work, and Veronica removes one of her stockings. He watches intently (if a bit awkwardly) as she does so. It's probably the Goldblumiest he has ever been.
  • Sir Not-Appearing-in-This-Trailer: To avoid giving people the wrong idea, executive producer Mel Brooks (yes, that Mel Brooks) tried to keep his name away from the film. When this failed, he attended the premiere and handed out toy antennae, deliberately misleading people into thinking it was going to be a comedy.
  • Split-Personality Takeover: Seth's mind also gradually changes into that of a brutal insect. Near the final stages of his transformation, Seth goes so far as to warn Veronica that it is starting to affect his mind, and he fears he will hurt her if she stays.
  • Stages of Monster Grief: Seth goes through all of them in his one-month transformation.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: While Drunk with Power, Seth utters some bizarre dialogue. The utterances about the "power of flesh" is pure Cronenberg.
    Seth: You're afraid to dive into the plasma pool, aren't you? You're afraid to be destroyed and recreated, aren't you? I'll bet you think that you woke me up about the flesh, don't you? But you only know society's straight line about the flesh. You can't penetrate beyond society's sick, gray, fear of the flesh. Drink deep, or taste not, the plasma spring! Y'see what I'm saying? And I'm not just talking about sex and penetration. I'm talking about penetration beyond the veil of the flesh! A deep penetrating dive into the plasma pool!
  • Super Strength: Brundle merging with the fly gives him a mild form of this, enough to rip open a man's arm in an arm-wrestling contest.
  • Super Window Jump: At the abortion clinic, once Veronica is left alone in an operating room, Brundlefly does this before abducting her after overhearing her discussion with Stathis about the abortion on the roof and following her to the clinic.
  • Supporting Protagonist: Both Veronica and Stathis fulfill this role as some of Seth's tragic gradual transformation are told from their viewpoints.
  • Sweet Tooth: Flies love sugar.
    Veronica: Do you normally take coffee with your sugar?
  • Tele-Frag: What Seth considered to be his life's work turned out to be his demise.
  • That Poor Monkeycat: Apparently the scene was so disturbing it had to be removed from the film's final cut.
    • The first baboon doesn't fare too well, either.
  • Teleporter Accident: The test animals (and even a steak) came out the worse for wear.
  • Tortured Monster: The monster (Seth Brundle post-Tele-Frag) is confronted by a shotgun-wielding Veronica Quaife, and grabs the business end of the shotgun and places it against its head. Tear Jerker moment, indeed.
  • Tragic Mistake: Oh Seth... you really should have waited and run some more tests before trying the teleporter on yourself. Or at least waited until Ronnie returned.
  • Tragic Monster: Alas, poor Seth. Probably one of the most profound examples of this trope ever.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Stathis. He tried to throw a wrench into Seth and Veronica's relationship and hamstring the latter's book deal by threatening to print the story on his own. Veronica goes to confront Stathis about it, but Seth instead thinks that she betrayed him and that the two ex-lovers are getting back together. Seth hits the bottle as a result and ends up climbing inside the telepod.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Used a lot, especially in the final scenes. Although we never get to see the externally digested food getting reabsorbed. Instead we get to see Stathis looking horrified. An unfilmed scene had Seth eating a bag lady, starting by melting her face.
  • Wall Crawl: Eventually, Seth can do this.
  • Your Head Asplode: Brundlefly, courtesy of a shotgun blast.