The Fly Ending Explained: Have You Ever Heard Of Insect Politics?

David Cronenberg has been exploring the flesh-mind dichotomy ever since his 1969 sci-fi debut, "Shivers," where mutations in the flesh lead to new stages of consciousness. Body horror is a gateway to thematic realms that reveal deep-seated psychological urges, and Cronenberg uses this element to deeply electrifying and repulsive ends. But what makes his 1986 sci-fi horror film, "The Fly," so poignant is that it blends body horror with a tragic central love story that is so moving that it intensifies the terrifying aspects of the narrative. A freak accident leads to the forbidden fusion of DNA, and the aftereffects are life-altering: The ecstasies of newfound life and love slowly devolve into the grotesqueness of change, loss, and the inevitability of death.

Love is infused with suffering in "The Fly," in the same way Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) finds himself infused with the baser instincts of a housefly and morphs into something unrecognizable. The untangling is not only dangerous but impossible — unfortunately, some stages in life remain irreversible. Cronenberg took inspiration for "The Fly" from George Langelaan's short story and the 1958 adaptation of the same name, but he steadily diverges from the source material by weaving the threads of a grotesque nightmare that doubles as an allegory for disease, aging, or the natural degradation of relationships, depending on how you choose to view it.

Although there are plenty of shock-inducing moments in the film, including scenes that include vomit enzymes and an especially sickening arm-wrestling match, the ending of "The Fly" manages to shock the most. When Ronnie (Geena Davis) shoots a metamorphosed Seth after he begs for death in the end, it is not an act of violence, but an act of compassion. Let's dive deeper into Cronenberg's layered, gut-wrenching creature feature.

The violence of metamorphosis

The mutation of the self is a disorienting phenomenon, as it completely augments the way one perceives oneself and the world around them. An obvious example that comes to mind is Gregor Samsa's baffling transformation into an insect in Franz Kafka's "The Metamorphosis," which has been subject to various interpretations ranging from the sociological to the existential. Subjective interpretation aside, the core of Samsa's reality remains acutely painful: Unable to function in ways he's attuned to, Samsa views himself as a burden while those close to him treat him either with obligatory pity or callous hostility. In "The Fly," Seth's reaction to his own transformation is markedly different — while his scientific hubris urges him to believe that the physical changes are for the better, his inability to process Ronnie's rejection eventually sets him on a path of primal rage and destruction.

Seth's gradual transformation into Brundlefly, a fusion of his consciousness with that of a housefly, underlines the ultimate erosion of personal identity. Although Seth's transition into Brundlefly hinges on the amplification of aspects of his personality, the creature he turns into is far removed from the thoughtful, compassionate scientist who Ronnie fell in love with. As Seth's human skin and teeth wither and fall off, so does his sense of humanity, which is replaced with the emergence of a hybrid consciousness that indulges in violent extremes for the sake of acceptance. Despite the grotesque changes that take place in his mind/body, Seth wants Ronnie to love and accept him, to the point that he wants to force her into fusing with him along with her unborn child.

However, before Seth reaches the point of no return, he displays alarming self-awareness, urging Ronnie to leave, lest he hurts her. This is when he talks about...

Insect politics

Unlike "Videodrome," where the confines of human flesh are bypassed to usher in a new beginning, "The Fly" underscores the limitations of the body and the absolute nature of death, which annihilates both the mind and the body along with it. While still aware of his dire condition, Seth understands the finality of death and desperately wishes to preserve life after learning about Ronnie's pregnancy, which is essentially what pushes him to the edge. Still struggling to hold on to his innate humanity, Seth asks Ronnie whether she has heard of "insect politics," while calmly explaining that no such thing exists, as insects do not indulge in politics.

Why? Because such creatures are driven by primal brutality and lack compassion. However, Seth dreams of becoming the first insect politician, a hybrid man-fly who thinks, feels, and holds space for emotions that are not absolutes. However, it is but a misguided dream, as the insect is now awake, threatening to take over at any moment. Seth is not in control of his own metamorphosis, and his degrading psyche cannot help but watch his evolution in horror. Just like Ronnie, who looks on helplessly, so do we, as Seth starts craving ungodly amounts of sugar and snapping wrists in bars without actual thought or remorse. Gone is the self-assured tenderness that characterized Seth and drew Ronnie in: Now, he is a megalomaniac who revels in extremes and flits from one instinct to another with the frenetic urgency of a possessed man.

In fact, Seth's deterioration is so repulsive that it somehow allows sleazeball jerk Stathis (John Getz) to emerge as the unlikely hero towards the end. Although Stathis saves the day by exhibiting base-level human decency, he remains a footnote in the tragedy that unfolds between the central lovers.

Aging, death, and the inevitability of it all

One of many reasons why Seth's degradation is so difficult to witness is that it directly speaks to our anxieties surrounding the decay of our own minds and bodies, be it natural or due to some illness. In the case of the latter, the transitional period can be extremely painful and alienating, forever altering how we perceive personal relationships and our own understanding of who we are. David Cronenberg visualizes these latent anxieties by adding a nightmarish tint to them. Seth's body mutates, peels off, and sprouts fresh outgrowths filled with disgusting fluids, and the range of these biological horrors is astounding. While these visual horrors dominate, Cronenberg's vision is not skin-deep, as the psychological implications of these mutations are far more haunting than we would like to admit.

On an emotional level, Seth's passion morphs into abusive obsession, and his calm confidence gives way to an ugly brand of narcissistic possessiveness, which Ronnie is a victim of. When Ronnie and Stathis try and stop him from actualizing his dreams in the end, Seth hounds them with the casual cruelty of humans swatting a housefly, giving no second thought to the end of its lifecycle. At this moment, human yardsticks for morality mean nothing to Seth, as he believes he has evolved into a superhuman who does not need love or acceptance to sustain him. This transformation is cruel — he is now a creature of instinct, incapable of dreaming about insect politics.

A sliver of humanity fights through the rot, leading to the death of the man Seth was and could have been. With this mercy killing, his burgeoning monstrosity dies too. But this death does not feel like a victory; it is a tragic, inevitable end to a metamorphosis gone wrong.