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.