There will always be that one book, that one DVD or that one piece of artistry in which you won’t have the courage or motivation to open and confront it face to face. For me, that one film is the one that I will discuss today, and that film is David Cronenberg’s “The Fly”.
Ok…. I admit it, I am scared to open it, given that I have viewed countless gruesome images of the film, and am particularly afraid of the notion of watching a man slowly and painfully transform into…… something else.
|See what I mean…|
I had downloaded the film for about a year and a half (yes, I am a pirate!), and it sat in my hard disk, and was left forgotten. Or at least I thought so, because there are moments when my unconscious self started to seep through my well barricaded self, and I am driven mad by an impulse to just forget my own considerations, and to satisfy my insatiable curiosity. Yet, that plan never sufficed.
It was not until last month when I finished Franz Kafka’s nightmarish “Die Verwandlung (The Metamorphosis)” that I can even put aside my irrational fear of gruesome metamorphoses, and finally plant myself in front of the laptop, and sit through the whole horrifying 96 minutes of the movie.
What a breathtaking movie it is (albeit simultaneously horrifying and absolutely heartbreaking)! It not only signifies a very dramatic cinematic achievement in costume designing and make-up techniques, but also, its very humanistic elements is what established this movie as one of the landmarks in storytelling. It manages to subside the very threat that many sci-fi movies had succumbed into, which is to make this film into a “freak show”.
Adapted from a short story written in the 1950s, this movie takes the already horrifying notion of unwilling transformation to greater heights. There are many parables to this masterful film, with Kafka’s haunting novella “The Metamorphosis”. Both of their main characters (Gregor Samsa from “Metamorphosis”, and Seth Brundle from “The Fly”) confronts an absurd situation in which they are transformed (or transforming) into an insect, and this catastrophic phenomenon not only change their lives, but rather calls to question of what it means to be a human.
Does the new body signifies the death of the old mind? Does the acquisition of new “insectile” instincts nullify our human cognition? But these questions would not seem proper, as in both “Samsabeetle” and “Brundlefly” we can still retrieve traces of our human thinking and of their compassion and dignity that signals an all too human emotional state. What then, does the transformation signifies? Does it signify their spiritual impoverishment? Or does the transformations act as a metaphor for their aging bodies? Or is the more famous interpretation of it serving as a metaphor for AIDS correct? All these questions will only sprout further questions, but I think one of the central questions is the meaning, or should I say requirements, for us to be human.
What does it mean to be human? Is it the ability to perform maths? Is it the ability to perform miraculous acts through the name of science? Or is it the ability to feel compassion and empathy towards another? What if we suddenly acquired a super human ability through the fusion of our human cells with that of another species (for example say a spider)? Does that make us all the more human, or does it make our human qualities dormant as our new animal/insect instincts arise and take over our body?
All these questions lay to rest when we just simply put aside our constantly spinning mind and just sit there and witness the pain and morbidness of Brundle’s transformation into a fly through an experiment gone wrong. Yes, we feel pain for him, as we observe his losing capabilities to chew and absorb normal food, as his human physical traits slowly deteriorates and decay while his “fly traits” gradually emerged. We feel hurt for seeing him turn from a promising genius into a creature who takes pleasure just by spitting out his acidic fly enzyme or by crawling around on his bedroom ceiling. We feel heartbroken as we watch his lover, slowly exposed to the horrific truth that her lover will never return, and that Brundle will no longer be human, nor fly, but an altogether new being that cannot (and will not) be classified.
But does Brundle feel pain? It is not evident in his behaviors and expressions that he felt pain at all. In fact, he seemed quite amused by the prospect that he can hung upside down from his ceiling, and even collected his decaying and fallen human body parts, displaying them on a shelf and calling it the “Brundle Museum of Natural History”. Does this mean that Brundle is not afraid of his impending fate?
I cannot give the answer, but perhaps consider the following scene I will describe and interpret it as you will. In this chilling and climactic scene, Brundle tell his lover of his current state, and he described it by saying, “I’m an insect who dreamt he was a man and loved it. But now the dream is over… and the insect is awake. I’m saying… I’ll hurt you if you stay.”
In just a few sentences, the movie manages to transcend itself as being just a typical sci-fi or love movie, and instead it addresses the human condition with all its bluntness and fatality. The phrase is all the more heartbreaking because we too realize that we are facing similarly metaphorical situations in our lives. Everything is a dream, and one day, sooner or later, we will have to wake up, what then do we do? Hide in despair? Or transcend it, by becoming an “Übermensch” as Nietzsche envisioned? Perhaps there are no answers to these questions, and I am just here trying to confuse myself to death.
But what a great film this is, in that it provoked so many questions in me! That the possibility that I will never acquire answers to these questions never bothered me in the slightest, and I am grateful that I am still able to see such thought provoking movies in my lifetime. These pleasant feelings is equally mixed by my guilt for not being able to bring myself to watch this film much earlier on.
Perhaps we should be grateful for the fact that this might not ever happen in real life (or is it?). For one, Brundle has already clearly stated it in such direct fashion, “Have you ever heard of insect politics? Neither have I. Insects… don’t have politics. They’re very… brutal. No compassion, no compromise. We can’t trust the insect…”
And neither will we.