“Something’s lost in the translation!” Hemimetabolic Adaptation (or Incomplete Metamorphosis) in David Cronenberg’s The Fly.
Authors: Berger, R.
Editors: Cutchins, D.R. and Perry, D.R.
Publisher: McFarland & Company
Place of Publication: Jefferson, North Carolina
The Fly (1986) is David Cronenberg’s only remake. Ostensibly based on the 1958 movie, The Fly cites George Langelaan’s 1957 short-story as its inspiration. In doing so, Cronenberg’s version attempts to efface the Vincent Price B-Movie horror classic, and replace it with something more complex and visceral. Indeed, the short-story and subsequent filmed versions are about the biological metamorphosis of a human-being into something else: the 1958 fly being a ‘complete’ swap between human and insect (holometabalous) and Cronenberg’s incomplete metamorphosis (hemimetabolous) into ‘Brundlefly’. As Clarke (2002) puts it, “…stories of metamorphosis are inherently self-referential: they are always also allegories of the media through which they are communicated”.
This chapter will argue that the two metamorphoses stand as metaphors for the process of adaptation itself, between complete and incomplete versions of texts in different media. While the 1958 adaptation was a warning of the high-capitalist tech society to come, Cronenberg’s remake concerns itself with the failure of technology to solve global problems and re-tools the story to be one about body dysmorphia; which some scholars have lazily perhaps ascribed to the HIV/AIDs pandemic of the 1980s – see Mathijs (2003) and Snowdon (2012).
While the 1958 movie warns humanity about the perils of ‘playing God’, the 80s remake eerily predicts the social media age’s obsession with flesh and body image; in a hyper-mediated culture of Instagram and facial recognition technology, the computer’s failure to no-longer recognise Seth Brundle’s new augmented reality, speaks to our image conscious era - mirrored in the way Cronenberg’s film misrecognises the 1958 original.
While, accepting that “[adaptation can be a violent process, in either direction” (Milligan, 2017), the chapter will also cover how previous versions of texts can gain an “afterlife” (Benjamin) through streaming services and EPG preferencing technology, rending Cronenberg’s direct signalling of Langelaan’s story as source, highly problematic.