I’m a huge fan of David Cronenberg’s entire career, but if there is one of his films that I continue to visit repeatedly, it’s The Fly. Between Howard Shore’s brilliant and heartbreaking score, the incredible performances from both Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis, and the amazing Oscar-winning special effects from Chris Walas that brought Brundlefly to life, The Fly is just one of those perfect movies that I enjoy rewatching and still continue to discover new things about the more I revisit it.
Like many, one of the big reasons I first fell in love with The Fly when I saw it at the drive-in as a kid back in the summer of ’86 was the infectious chemistry shared between Goldblum and Davis. Their shared passion is palpable and the way the duo (who were dating in real life at the time) influences each other throughout The Fly is a big part of why we care so much about them as characters and are heartbroken when things take a terrible turn.
But as I’ve watched The Fly more and more as an adult, something has continued to become more apparent. Sure, Veronica and Seth’s love is a wonderfully powerful force that meets a tragic end by the conclusion of The Fly, but the real hero of the film might just be Ronnie’s jealous ex-boyfriend and editor, Stathis Borans, brought to life by the superlative John Getz.
When we’re first introduced to Stathis, it’s during a pitch meeting with Veronica. His sardonic wit is on full display as he shoots down the journalist’s claim that she is about to break open a story that could very well change the world. A fascinating note about Getz’s performance is that during the audition process, he suffered from a terrible headache and Cronenberg told the actor that he wanted him to replicate that feeling throughout production on The Fly. The pitch meeting is the first scene they shot with Getz using his “headache” approach (he drops it right around the time we see Veronica first reaching out to him about Seth’s condition). So right off the bat, Getz knows precisely how to get under both Veronica, and viewers’, skin.
The next time we see Borans, he’s taking a shower at Veronica’s apartment, his passive aggressive way of inserting himself back into her life and reminding her that they once lived together. I won’t even pretend that his actions here aren’t skeevy and underhanded—they are—but sometimes when you’re under the influence of love, your reactions to being shunned are often quite erratic. We’ve all done dumb stuff while in love, and even dumber stuff when that love isn’t reciprocated, so while I don’t condone Stathis’ methods, it’s easy for me to at least empathize with the feelings behind his moronic deeds.
After all, love is a powerful motivator for many; it’s what drives the relationship of Seth and Veronica, so why isn’t it possible that Stathis is just acting (horribly, of course) on his own romantic instincts, regardless of how ill-conceived they are? He conducts his own stakeout of Seth’s apartment when he begins to suspect that Veronica’s relationship with the scientist is more than a professional one, and subsequently follows her to a clothing store to confront her as she purchases items to take home to Seth. Sure, the way he spits accusations at her in a public setting sounds like the rantings of a stark-raving mad lunatic, but underneath it all, he is still just a man watching the woman he loves replace him and right or wrong, it’s a feeling that can drive even the most level-headed and intelligent people right into acts of madness.
While Stathis’ actions throughout most of The Fly are often petty, arrogant, and downright childish, when things get rough for Veronica, he is there for her as a friend, because he realizes she is in desperate need of his help and doesn’t want anything bad to happen to her, although he still bluntly asks Veronica, “Do I have permission to claim your body when this is all over?”
A huge turning point in The Fly is undoubtedly the reveal of Veronica’s pregnancy, and the first person she shares the news with is Stathis, when he is at her apartment watching footage of Brundlefly devouring food using his insect vomit technique. Instead of casting blame on her or trying to exacerbate the delicate situation with his typical inflammatory remarks, Stathis just calmly asks her, “What do you want to do?” As much as his character is a dick, he still knows that it doesn’t matter what he thinks of Veronica now carrying some other man’s child, the choice of what to do about it is ultimately hers and hers alone.
Davis’ character has no one else to turn to as she struggles to figure out what she should do about the potential Brundlefly baby that could be growing inside her womb. She returns to Seth’s loft in hopes that some shred of humanity may still exist within her lover, but instead realizes that the creature isn’t the man she fell for just a few months prior. Because of the uncertainty of just when the baby was conceived (before or after Seth transported through his pods with a housefly in tow), and seeing Seth in his current state, Veronica runs off in sheer horror, knowing that she can’t risk giving birth to something that could possibly share the same cruel fate as its father.
Cronenberg’s decision to address the idea of abortion in a major studio film at that time was a bold one; even though Roe v. Wade confirmed the legality of abortion in the early 1970s, there was still a huge stigma surrounding abortion culturally at the time The Fly was released, and women often struggled to find doctors or clinics that would perform the procedures in a safe and proper manner. Veronica’s decision to move forward with the termination of her pregnancy wasn’t just a huge moment for her character, it was a huge moment for women everywhere, as Cronenberg’s film humanizes the decision of abortion through Veronica’s desperation and sheer panic over what could be growing inside of her.
And who does Veronica turn to when she decides to move forward with an abortion? Stathis, who brings her to a doctor’s office in the middle of the night, and when he begins questioning the odd circumstances of the situation, Stathis does his best to deflect these inquiries away from the already fragile Veronica, answering on her behalf. But when Seth takes her away before she can terminate her pregnancy, it’s Stathis who steps up and risks his own well-being to ensure Veronica’s survival. Of course, he pays for his intentions, as Brundlefly dissolves both Stathis’ ankle and hand using his vomit trick, which frankly would have been enough to make me give up on life and just wait for certain death.
But no, not Stathis.
Brundlefly locks Veronica into one of the telepods as part of his plan to fuse them together so that they can live as one big happily morphed family. So what does Stathis do? Like a badass, he mans up and shoots the cords on Veronica’s telepod, ultimately saving her from a truly awful fate after watching his own hand and ankle dissolve into a red and yellow pile of oozing goo.
He literally sacrifices appendages for someone who spent most of the film pushing him away, and even though Stathis exhibits manic and inappropriate behavior throughout The Fly, the way he comes around as Veronica’s emotional support and confidante during the film’s second half make him the real hero here. To me, the way Cronenberg subtly makes that heroic transition—from Seth, who we initially follow and sympathize with, to the antagonistic Stathis, who we originally view as the film’s villain—is just another example of his storytelling genius.
So while The Fly may very well be one of the greatest love stories the horror and sci-fi genres will ever see, just keep in mind that while Stathis may be an insensitive and obsessive jerk (or “schmuck” as Veronica calls him at one point), in the end he was there for Veronica when no one else was, and perhaps that turnaround is enough to qualify him as the real hero of The Fly.
This article is part of our Class of 1986 special features celebrating a wide range of genre films released thirty years ago. In case you missed them, we have links to our other Class of 1986 pieces, and to read more exclusive interviews and articles about flicks from ’86, click on the DEADLY Magazine cover image below: