The Fly (1986)

Writer/Director David Cronenberg understanding of two ideas shapes The Fly into the masterful horror flick that is able both the endear the audience to its cast and then revolt them with the disgusting events that follow. The two ideas are the concept of creating psychologically believable characters and the application of Freudian though in the horror film.

In terms of psychologically plausible characters, Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) is the best example. He’s a recluse scientist who decides to let reporter Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis) in on his breakthrough that will change the world. It’s clear he’s more interested in companionship that revealing his creation to the world. His isolation and loneliness have led to his slightly nervous and uneasy behavior and desperation has driven him to seek out a female companion.

The horrific transformation he goes through is spurn on through a drunken mistake when he becomes jealous of Veronica, assuming she is sleeping with her ex, Stathis Borans (John Getz). This relationship shows why Veronica would take interest in Seth. Stathis is brash and inappropriate where Seth is reserved and cautious.

Stathis, in the scope of the entire film, is a smaller, but essential character. While his psychology is a bit base and extreme, it still gives him justifiable reasons for his actions and makes him somewhat sympathetic even if his behavior is misguided. If the film has a strong weakness, it’s that Stathis needs a few more scenes peppered through the film to fully develop his transformation as a character.

And while the psychological rationale is a large part of what makes these characters work, even more than that, it’s Freudian psychology that shapes these characters. Each of these characters begins as one of the three parts of Freud’s breakdown of human psychology.

It’s clear that Stathis is the id, the base desire to take pleasure however he can get it. While his advances are sexual, he also gains pleasure simply through annoying Veronica after their breakup. Meanwhile, Veronica is the ego, she still has those pleasure desires that control her behavior, but she’s more rational and controlled about how she expresses them. This leaves Seth as the superego, a man who seems to have completely repressed his id, focusing his energies on his project.

Yet these aren’t simple static representations of characters. The characters morph in and out of these states, changing into different states. While Seth’s transformation is physical, on a deeper level it can be seen as the id battling the superego for control of Seth. And while Seth transforms physically, the other two characters begin to move away from the id as they see what it is doing to Seth.

It’s the psychological ideas that make The Fly work. These characters might not be the most psychologically complex characters on film, but this is a fine example about how a good understanding of a character’s psychology can help perpetuate story and conflict. This makes even the most bizarre and gross moments of the film work, a visualization of ideas, impulses and notions deeply imbedded in the human mind.

© 2011 James Blake Ewing