The main story in David Cronenberg's 1986 movie The Fly--a man becoming a monster-- is not a new one. Kafka's Metamorphosis shares insect roots, while Wells's The Invisible Man and other mad scientist stories share the threat of science turning against its "creator." But many of these stories, including The Fly, are less about one thing becoming another than about getting stuck in the murky space between.
Seth Brundle begins to experience issues with identity and living within a known category as soon as he realizes he was combined with a fly during teleportation. His computer log shows there was a "secondary element" in the telepod with him. He queries the computer:
IF PRIMARY ELEMENT IS BRUNDLE, WHAT IS SECONDARY ELEMENT?
The computer, not having been programmed to know the category "fly," responds:
SECONDARY ELEMENT IS NOT-BRUNDLE
The conversation continues:
Seth: IF SECONDARY ELEMENT IS FLY, WHAT HAPPENED TO FLY?
Seth: ASSIMILATION? DID BRUNDLE ABSORB FLY?
Computer: FUSION OF BRUNDLE AND FLY AT MOLECULAR-GENETIC LEVEL
Now Brundle is faced with this truth: He is no longer Brundle as he understands that signifier. He is both Brundle and not-Brundle. These two categories cannot be separated; each gene of "new Brundle" contains both Brundle and not-Brundle.
Explaining his transformation to Veronica, he says, "How does Brundlefly eat? He found out the hard way." After stopping Veronica from aborting the fetus he fathered, he asks, "Why did you want to kill Brundle? The baby might be all that's left of the real me. Please don't kill me."
At some point, his computer no longer recognizes his voice--external proof that his old identity has become something other.
As pieces of Brundle's human body become vestigial and fall off--ears, teeth--he keeps them in the medicine cabinet, referring to them as "relics of a bygone era." Brundle appears to be moving from human to fly, but it's important to note that he will never reach the state of "fly." Just as human Brundle cannot rid his cells of the fly, the fly cannot rid its cells of Brundle. Brundlefly is a creature in-between, stuck in the becoming.
Brundlefly can be read as a manifestation of what Deleuze and Guattari term the "becoming-animal." They specify that this state does not depend on an end result or a completed transformation: "[t]o become is not to progress or regress along a series." They expand on this by saying
"Becoming produces nothing other than itself. We fall into a false alternative if we say that you either imitate or you are. What is real is the becoming itself...The becoming-animal of the human being is real even if the animal the human being becomes is not...a becoming lacks a subject distinct from itself" (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus 268)
Sarah Dillon calls this new identity borne from one who is becoming-animal "an identity in process, defined only in and through repeated moments of relationality--in this instance, with the animal other" (146). Brundlefly carries out these "repeated moments of relationality," positioning himself in relation to what he understands the categories "human" and "animal" to mean. But at times he can lose even this relationality: rather than a diluted form of either category, he sees himself as "something that never existed before." Stuck in the becoming, he is able to see beyond a linear movement between human and animal--able to step off the line and add a dimension to his self-conception. Yet ultimately Brundlefly returns to the categories he knew and trusted as Brundle. He devises a plan to combine himself with a "pure human," to repeat the fusion process in the hope that human will defeat animal in his cells. The end of the film sees him begging Veronica, "Help me. Help me be human."
- Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. 1976. Trans. Brian Massumi. London: Continuum, 2004.
- Dillion, Sarah. "'It's a Question of Words, Therefore': Becoming-animal in Michel Faber's Under the Skin." Science Fiction Studies 38 (2011): 134-154.
- The Fly. Dir. David Cronenberg. Perf. Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, John Getz. Brooksfilms, 1986. DVD.
Fly image via Flickr creative commons / andre.vanrooyen