WARNING SPOILERS As explained already, "The Fly" (1986) is a re-make of the 1958 sci-horror of the same title. However, whilst the earlier film is a simple horror story of a man who (part) mutates into a fly, Cronenberg's version is a much more complex pic that appears to be a metaphor for mental illness more than anything else.
Story focuses on Seth Brundle (Goldblum), a gentle, socially awkward yet genius scientist who is working on a cure for his motion sickness (the latter preventing him from getting out much), in the form of teleportation through telepods. Brundle meets Ronnie (Davis), a journalist, and, keen to find a companion in his work, invites her to his warehouse apartment. Ronnie is immediately intrigued by his work and his boyish charms, and ends up agreeing to record his work to print an article when it is complete. Almost immediately, they begin a love affair.
Their affair is ultimately the making and breaking of Brundle and is the turning point of the film (rather than Brundle's teleportation through the pods). Having previously been a recluse, confined to his apartment, obsessively wearing the same clothes every day (and who considers cheeseburgers and a deluxe coffee-machine to be the sum excitement of his life!), Ronnie's sensual (and almost motherly) love awakens a passion (and conversely a jealousy) in Brundle he has never known before. Indeed, Cronenberg conveys this metaphorically. Brundle cannot teleport flesh (and there is a nasty scene with a baboon when he does) until his love affair with Ronnie - who essentially teaches him "how to be made crazy by flesh". This is literally what happens. Brundle realises his missing component, re-programmes his computer and the teleportation is successful.
Whilst his love for Ronnie helps to complete his work, it ultimately destroys him. In a fit of jealousy when she goes away to confront her meddlesome and lecherous ex (Getz), Brundle recklessly teleports himself, not knowing the pod is contaminated with a fly. The insect is obviously another metaphor, otherwise Brundle would have fused with every mite on his body! The telepods are Brundle's only means of leaving his confined existence - a form of deconstructionreconstruction that fuses him with an insect at genetic level which is at first exhilarating then terrifying. It is from here that (well I believe) the film becomes a metaphor for mental illness. Having lived with someone with bipolar disorder, Brundle's behaviour very much mirrors the symptoms and personality traits: initially, he is sexually insatiable, promiscuous, irritable, unable to sleep, aggressive, speaks too fast, has an almighty God complex and oodles of energy (very much like a high - even to the extent that he craves sweet foods). When Ronnie can't keep up with him, she becomes "a drag", who only has a "basic understanding of the flesh" - clearly meaning he has "progressed" from mere sex to a higher level of consciousness (bipolar sufferers often feel they "see" and appreciate life more than others). Inevitably, his actions end their relationship because she doesn't understand him.
Before long, "the insect" starts to change him physically as well. He develops skin rashes, his nails, teeth and hair start to drop out and he is unable to eat food (food "hurts") - common fears with Anxiety (particularly food intolerances) when the "high" starts to wane and the reckless behaviour catches up with the body. What is noticeable is that Cronenberg very much focuses on Brundle's psychological changes before the gruesome physical downfall. There is no scientific explanation of why he physically metamorphs the way he does because it is really not important. Ultimately, his physical and mental state spiral down into something incapacitating (depression) and ugly until he becomes emotionally devoid to the point of dangerous (when the insect is "awake"). He feels his only option is to merge with Ronnie and their baby, but his attempts at "the perfect family" fail. Ultimately, from being at his mental and physical peak, Brundle is left with nothing, marked by the fact that it is the lecherous, "disgusting" ex who eventually who steps up to the mark of hero by helping Ronnie with her abortion and saves her at the end.
The poignancy of the film is that Brundle is always alone, no matter what stage he is at, be it reclusive nerd, arrogant genius or horribly disabled. Whilst the brief relationship with Ronnie is both tender and sweet (he even asks if it is a relationship, he is that naive) it is only brief and ultimately the cause of his demise. One can only wish he had never met Ronnie and kept to his caged existence. It shows the frustration of someone who cannot handle "the flesh" - i.e. a relationship - who is always relegated to a life alone constantly craving understanding.
My criticism of the film is the amount of gratuitous gore which looks both dated and ludicrous (particularly when she pulls his jaw off) and which distracts from the main theme of the film, to the point that a lot of people don't get it. Also, I felt Ronnie's character was very one-dimensional - ultimately a catalyst for Brundle - although Davis brought a natural, intriguing intelligence to it and did the best she could. Also, the leads' off-screen romance helped a lot with the chemistry between the characters.
A brilliant film that is probably the best so far of conveying the horrors and frustration of a world confined by illness.
Review by AnneSLReid from the Internet Movie Database.