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The 36 Dramatic Situations: The Fly (1986) and Fatal Imprudence

Jeff Goldblum in The Fly
Twentieth Century Fox
By  · Published on September 4th, 2010

This article is part of our 36 Dramatic Situations series.

For 36 days straight, we’ll be exploring the famous 36 Dramatic Situations by presenting a film that exemplifies each one. From family killing family to prisoners in need of asylum, we brush off the 19th-century list in order to remember that it’s still incredibly relevant today.

Whether you’re seeking a degree in Literature, love movies, or just love seeing things explode, our feature should have something for everyone. If it doesn’t, please don’t make us watch as your body parts fall off.

Part 27 of the 36-part series takes a look at “Fatal Imprudence” with The Fly.

The Synopsis

Seth Brundle is a brilliant scientist on the brink of finalizing an invention that he claims will change the world. He meets a journalist (played by Geena Davis) at a science convention and convinces her to follow him back to his lab to show her what he’s been working on. When he reveals to her his telepods and demonstrates their functionality she becomes immediately captivated and is again convinced by Brundle to work alongside him and chronicle his progress as he continues to work to reach the ultimate goal of transporting a living organism.

As the two begin to form an intimate relationship Brundle, in an act of impatience and momentary jealousy, decides to put himself in the pod and forego waiting on test results on a baboon he managed to transport seemingly without harm. Unbeknownst to Brundle a housefly enters the pod with him, and though he initially appears to have gone through the process cleanly, as time passes he gradually transforms, physically and emotionally, from a human being into something grotesquely arthropodous.

The Situation

“Fatal Imprudence” – The rash act or curiosity of one, or a collective, that directly leads to their own misfortune, dishonor, or death or the consequences befall a relative or loved one.

This is an extremely common situation in the horror and science-fiction genre films. Mad scientists obsessed with pushing boundaries and breaking through to the unknown leading to the creation of uncontrollable beasts, or tearing through space and time to unleash the occupants of a parallel universe and such. Even when a mad scientist shows up as the villain, such as The Green Goblin in Spider-Man, imprudence is usually the act that kick starts the conflict.

This also happens frequently with white suburban teenagers wanting to find out more than they should resulting in stabbings and beheadings at the hands of uncontrollable beasts created by equally imprudent mad scientists. Some of those uncontrollable beasts wear masks.

The Movie

Probably the most well known of David Cronenberg’s films because it may be the closest the content and story has lent itself to having mass appeal, but like his other films there’s no sacrifice in character at the expense of a strong focus on the strange. In fact, there’s a connective theme in some of his later films like History of Violence where there seems to be two protagonists, or a slight drift of the story’s initial protagonist becoming the antagonist as the emotional investment of the audience moves from the initial main character to another. In the case of The Fly and History of Violence the second protagonist is the main character’s significant other.

But nobody cares, nor remembers that about The Fly, and it’s hard to fault them for it when the practical make-up effects are as memorably disgusting as they are in this film. As Jeff Goldblum, already of questionable human genome anyway, goes through what he thinks is a cleansing of physical imperfections because of an increase in energy and strength his physical makeup begins to alter and regress from a typical human (or as typical as Goldblum can muster) into a creature that will both voluntarily and involuntarily vomit, voluntarily and involuntarily lose body parts, and whose skin looks like a mixture of boils and spoiled tapioca. You may have just gagged, but that was the intention of the creators who were awarded the Academy Award for their efforts.

The Fly remains one of the most highly regarded genre films, not of just the last thirty years but in film history due to its unforgettable make-up work and bold content. Cronenberg’s film is a loose remake of the film from 1958 of the same name, and like many of the other films and stories of this variety the acts of one directly lead to their own dreadful demise – leading to the moral of think before you do, lest your body parts fall off. All of them.

Bonus Examples: The Invisible Man, Splice, Jurassic Park

Check out our entire series of 36 Dramatic Situations, 36 Movies.

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