[The eloquent Noel Tanti presides over the very bohemian Nigredo's Room.]
It’s been long and hard-headedly argued that David Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986) is a metaphor for AIDS. Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome was quite big at the time, being hailed by some as God’s punishment for the capitalist, consumerist, yuppie-ish lifestyle that characterized much of the 1980s. Most of these "sins" are still pretty much in vogue today, unlike the AIDS awareness fad whose thunder has been stolen by cancer (watch South Park’s "Tonsil Trouble" for a shocking but brilliant take on this). It really doesn’t matter which degenerative disease one chooses to associate with Seth’s (Jeff Goldblum) tormented odyssey, the analogy simply does not hold.
Mr. Cronenberg has repeatedly waived this overly simplistic interpretation of his film, even though he acknowledged the similarities and empathized with those persons who read it as such. However, as he himself points out during an interview (Cronenberg on Cronenberg, p.127), for the AIDS parallelism to hold, one has to assume that it was Veronica (Geena Davis) who passed on the disease to him which, in fact, is not the case. His fusion with the clandestine fly occurred after a session of drinking and conversing with his inner green-eyed monster, and not after having sex with Veronica.
The metaphor fails also in terms of the progression of the disease. I am no medical expert, but I do not think that there are many (or any) degenerative diseases which, once contracted, give you a boost of psychological, physical and libidinous energy similar to the one that Seth experiences. What he goes through makes sense only in terms of metamorphosis. Seth is not dying, he is not even becoming a fly, but is mutating into a new form of creature; part man, part insect; both and yet, none. There is no indication whatsoever of his demise once the transformation is complete (even though Seth does not know this), and this is more akin to what Mr Cronenberg had in mind for his tragic love story:
To me the film is a metaphor for ageing, a compression of any love affair that goes to the end of one of the lover’s lives... Every love story must end tragically. One of the lovers dies, or both of them die together. That’s tragic. It’s the end. (Cronenberg on Cronenberg, p.125)Age is an astute agent of change, perpetually altering whilst simultaneously reinforcing one’s place in the universe. The biological, societal, and cultural repercussions of this phenomenon are what Mr. Cronenberg is truly interested in.
One last problem I have with disease as metaphor is the implication that Seth has been somewhat punished for daring to venture where angels fear to tread, in the same foolhardy fashion that characterized Victor Frankenstein’s creation of the monster. Seth’s endeavors can hardly be deemed profane. His pods re-assemble a living creature, moving it from point A to point B, but this is a mode of transport, and I do not think that it justifies divine wrath and chastisement. If that’s the case, I am eagerly waiting for horror films about Henry Ford and the Wright Brothers.
What I believe lies behind this urge to seek method behind the nightmarish madness that Seth goes through is the very basic human need to assure oneself that no one has to withstand such an ordeal without there being a perfectly valid justification. However this is exactly what’s behind the horror of The Fly, that there is no real reason for Seth’s tragedy, just pure chance.