Bright Lights Film Journal

“Disease with a Purpose”: Ex-Boyfriends, Abortion and <em>The Fly</em> (1986)

But the choice to get this thing out of her body, to have an abortion, is made up of equal parts self-compassion and safety. It is entirely locatable. Ronnie is scared of the foreign thing inside her body. The foreign thing inside Seth’s body has turned Seth into a dream, reality into an insect that once slept and imagined Seth’s previous life. He is angry because dreamlife has taken over reality, has transformed him into a living, dying museum of his prior self.

1.

The movie begins with a man. This movie is about abortion but we’ll get to that later.

The man is worried about people eavesdropping on his ideas. His achievements are so obvious to him, less obvious to her, the woman. He cannot let her leave alive (joking/not joking) once she’s been inside his studio, witness or not, acknowledgment or otherwise. Whether she’s seen something or whether she was looking with a superficial glance. Whether she has a job to do or whether she’s just playing around.

2.

Ex-Boyfriend doesn’t believe her when she explains what she saw in the man’s studio. Ex-Boyfriend helps himself into her home, knows that she subconsciously wants him back, offers to tuck her in. Women are always going around being so subconscious about things, waiting for men to put blankets over their heads and forgetting about their spare keys.

She cares about lots of things, this woman, Veronica (Ronnie): science, fashion, meat, skin. Because she cares, she makes decisions (wait for it).

3.

It’s possible to enjoy expending thought-energy on numerous things at once. Some women have been known to love and even care for practically everything they encounter, to translate care, fluidly, from one thing to the next.

What gets lost when you translate a body? How is eating a steak like reading a poem? What do computers know about love? I could eat you up, if only you made me crazy enough, computational enough.

4.

What do Ex-Boyfriends know about love?

Ex-Boyfriend follows her to the store, to the studio, to the ends of crazy enough.

Ex-Boyfriends know about leaving but they also know about following and they also know about leading.

What gets lost, on occasion, are the very men who refuse to translate certain things.

But Ex-Boyfriends don’t know much about staying lost.

5.

Sometimes, science is led by curiosity, and other times by sea-sickness. Blackmail, old age, dog shit on your shoe. Hysteria. Men are so hysterical. Manic, impulsive. Appearing and disappearing, changing their minds. Especially when they’re bosses. Especially when they’re Boyfriends, ex- or otherwise. Especially when they’re disgusting or predictable or too smart or not that smart. Men are like bugs – they’re everywhere, and yet always surprising.

There is nothing more hysterical than trying to control another person’s body, replacing your own earnest fruition with external regulations; abandoning self-development in favor of displaced prescription. Or the hysteria that is wanting your accomplishments to be both visible and guarded, to armor the very love you claim to dispense.

6.

When men come fully into themselves, sometimes there is a pest, a virus, or a machine behind it.

In the movie, the man, Seth, wants her to become a bug too. He wants her to feel purified right along with him. He gets mean (more like his full capable self), becomes obsessed with flesh (more like his full capable self).

He sees hookers and flesh and opportunity everywhere. He sees bones sticking out of unsuspecting arms. He can’t see his own hairs for the trees. I’ve never understood what men mean when they say things. He says he wants to make the woman feel sexier (more like his full capable self).

7.

People turning into something else. People turning into more of the same thing.

Seth’s strength marks the near end of him, as he begins his descent into Brundlefly. His brilliance was perhaps always the mark of his approaching end.

8.

The end of Her is often close to the beginning of Him. The end of baby is always mistaken as something else.

In the dream, Ronnie sees herself losing the baby against her will. Pulled from her body, there is more and more and more baby: diseased baby, bug baby. Ex-Boyfriend leads her into the hospital room, via wheelchair, toward the choice that isn’t hers. “Voice not recognized” – how computational.

9.

When Seth, now Brundlefly, reveals that he is approaching a state of apolitical, compassionless monstrosity – that he will hurt Ronnie if she stays – Ronnie recognizes the danger of carrying their baby to term, of carrying something that could house a similar cruelty. She does not house the cruelty itself, but the potential. In this way, it is often difficult to locate cruelty.

It certainly exists in the consequence of jealous choices (Seth’s decision to recklessly transport himself, which leads to his monstrous hybridity, was motivated by the false suspicion that Ronnie was sleeping with Ex-Boyfriend).

But the choice to get this thing out of her body, to have an abortion, is made up of equal parts self-compassion and safety. It is entirely locatable. Ronnie is scared of the foreign thing inside her body. The foreign thing inside Seth’s body has turned Seth into a dream, reality into an insect that once slept and imagined Seth’s previous life. He is angry because dreamlife has taken over reality, has transformed him into a living, dying museum of his prior self.

Women who value reality over dreamscape must be given space to make very real choices about their bodies – what goes in, what comes out. Women who don’t want to become museums. Women who dream of the very lives they’re already attempting to live.

Copyright (c) 20th Century Fox Film Corp.

10.

Look: The most suffocating part of watching The Fly is not the brutal, campy effects, all those grotesqueries seen not through glances or angles but straight on. For as often as I look away from vomit and tissue, I am just as frequently made nauseous as I stare into the horrifying navigation of career, health, and romance, as Ronnie stays mostly entrapped between two dangerous men, two histories, stuck between her Ex-Boyfriend and her most recent one. Those two competing poles: the jealous, past intruder, and the monstrous smartguy who has newly intruded into her womb. Ex-Boyfriend is, regrettably, the one capable of arranging the urgent abortion Ronnie desires – as if she must metaphorically trudge through his lingering presence just to reach autonomy, sacrificing one desired removal for another. Meanwhile, Brundlefly threatens her safety, both external and internal. “I don’t want it in my body,” she cries repeatedly, an eavesdropping Brundlefly perched on the rooftop, in the most poignant and basic cry for bodily autonomy that I’ve ever seen paired with such camp.

11.

It is Ex-Boyfriend who first says the word, “abortion.” But there are others: words like “disease,” “deformity.” Who benefits the most when such words are conflated and used interchangeably with things like ill-will and tyranny, with control and danger and manipulation?

12.

Can pregnancy sometimes be less than even the accident we ascribe it to? Is it a sentence conflated with a body? Signifier mistakenly, repeatedly sewn onto the wrong image?

Is pregnancy a disease? If so: curable.

13.

Brundlefly kidnaps Ronnie straight from the Dr.’s table in a final attempt at saving his future kin, at saving the last accessible “real him.” And so her body becomes a marker of, a placeholder for, the real man.

If only men could locate their real sad silly fucked-up selves on their own terms, carried through their own bodies. If only abortions were safe and prevalent. If only it weren’t the Ex-Boyfriends who sometimes still need to save us. If only abortion were recognized as the beginning of something other than the end.

14.

“Help me be human.” Brundlefly needs Ronnie’s body, one way or another, in order to access his humanity; either its insides or else the whole thing. To accomplish, you could say, the ultimate nuclear family unit: man woman and baby, more human together than he could ever be alone.

“Help me be human.” Can you even picture a woman’s utterance approaching such words? I’ve known women who spend years and years forced to dream otherwise, living the inevitable desire of anything but.

“Help me be human.” Sorry, Boys.

15.

One time, care was interpreted as something more like jealousy, sexy interpreted as not enough. And that insufficiency soon came to be seen relationally as less than; then, as nothing. No things. The No of our choices: seen as never enough.

Baby, disease. Bodies, bugs, Ex-Boyfriends.

In the movie, the woman gets out of the telepod exactly the same.

Ronnie can’t bring herself to kill Brundlefly but she does. Can’t bring herself to keep the baby.

Women are always bringing themselves into everything they do. And the Ex-Boyfriends, all of them, are always trying to bring much more or much less.

More babies or less babies. More skin, less skin. More hair, less.

My hair looks bad today. At least I saw that good movie.

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Except where indicated, all images are screenshots from the film.