Cronenberg's 'The Fly:' A Romanticism of Gross
It’s rather funny, isn’t it? Among the extensive catalog of purposely heart-warming, tear-jerking films found within the romance genre, you’d think at least one would win me over, that at least one would devastate me and elicit some kind of genuine emotion. But you would be wrong. Alas, among the unending list of ‘date-night’ flicks and ‘romantic comedies’ none of them have ever quite connected with me, at least not nearly as much as Cronenberg’s ’80s body-horror, The Fly.
The instant chemistry between our two leads, Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) and Veronica “Ronnie” Quaife (Geena Davis), radiates pure romance; it’s a perfect setup and one quite unlike any other relationship I’ve seen on film. These are two lonely professionals seeing eye to eye with one another, admiring and respecting one another from the moment they meet. Well, sort of.
Brundle bugs Ronnie until she gives in and agrees to come back to his laboratory so he can not only flex his academic ego but also woo her with his charm. A typical romantic comedy would often set up our two characters being from completely different worlds, they would begin not getting along and quickly (yet surely) fall for each other. The Fly contrasts that by having characters that have a genuine reason to want to be around each other; the motive to find out more about each other is to further their respective careers. The emerging dynamic is something natural, something I can latch onto, a relationship based on the groundwork of the nine-to-five routine, a love originating from an on-the-clock lifestyle.
Cronenberg spends most of the runtime exploring the relationship between his two leads. Cronenberg’s sense of verisimilitude keeps our characters from getting themselves into chaotic, wacky situations. Instead of getting locked in a broom closet or stuck in an elevator, Seth and Ronnie interact in the cramped space with each other by choice, developing romantic feelings as a result of their shared work, not some obscene contrivance.
Cronenberg does, however, cheekily toy with the tropes of standard love plots, including the infamous "love triangle." An often overplayed, stereotypical tool of drama that most romantic genre pieces will use to add further strain between the two leads, Cronenberg flips that tired trope on its head. The third point of the love triangle? Ronnie’s boss. Cronenberg really hits the nail on the head with his character designs, playing around with the typical climax of this kind of story and ultimately having the ‘fighting for her love’ sequence steeped in the Cronenbergian: mutilated skin, green goo, and gnarly practical monsters.
Modern romance flicks have the tendency to gravitate toward the Florence Nightingale effect and are often met with high praise thanks to the reliable, emotionally manipulative structure. The Fly not only replicates this same effect but massively improves upon it, perverting the trope by replacing sickness with creature-feature transformation aesthetics, differentiating it into a much more idiosyncratic story evolution. Brundle needs desperate medical attention as his transformed body begins to deteriorate. As he longs for Ronnie’s help, she initially flees from the hideous thing Seth has become, but ultimately cannot let herself abandon him.
Not only does the ending rectify the underlying motif of loneliness that once was, but it also gives closure to Ronnie’s failing relationship with Seth in pure Cronenberg fashion: she shoots her boyfriend in his deformed grotesque fly head with a shotgun.
I truly believe this work is a singular portrait of distorted, dying love; a monumental footstep in incorporating two of the most distant genres and forcing them to meet in a way that most more well-known romances have not done as well. It's a perfect representation of love that, as absurd as it may seem, has its feet planted more firmly on the ground than rom-com I’ve ever seen. I believe in these characters, their arcs and their conflicts, and even though their tale ends in horrific bloodshed, I simply cannot help but get swept up by an astonishing flood of emotion with each watch.