Thursday, 5 April 2007
Dead Ringers (1988) dir. David Cronenberg
Starring: Jeremy Irons, Genevieve Bujold
“Dead Ringers” is a disturbing horror film that masquerades as mainstream. Cronenberg keeps the gore to a minimum, as compared to say, "Scanners", or "The Fly" and much of it happens off screen. But the film is the most disturbing of the Cronenberg’s oeuvre. It’s disgusting and horrific yet fascinating - like a tapeworm.
It’s the story of twin gynecologists, Beverly (a man) and Elliot Mantle (creepy names too). They are brilliant, but utterly maniacal and disturbed. They are both played by Jeremy Irons in, arguably, his finest role(s). Beverly is the shy, introverted and more responsible of the two, Elliot is the showman, the speechmaker and the Don Juan. Despite the closeness in genes, Elliot dominates Beverly, and coyly refers to him as his “baby brother. But together they make a perfect team both professionally and socially. They cruelly date the same women by posing as the same person. Elliot, with his charm and charisma, breaks the ice, and Beverly takes the seconds, which allows him to get laid without much effort. Professionally they are known as twins, but Beverly does the hard work and Elliot receives the accolades. They seem to have a functional system that has gotten them ahead in the world.
The armour starts to crack when Elliot beds one of their clients, an actress, Claire (a riveting performance from Genevieve Bujold). As before, they both date and sleep with her, but Claire catches on and confronts them about their misogynistic behaviour. They admit to defeat and Elliot has no problem letting her go, but Beverly has developed a deep love for her. Beverly decides to keep Claire for himself and not share her with Elliot. As their relationship develops so does a nasty mutual drug habit. Beverly is clever enough to think that he’s being exploiting for drugs (amphetamines and morphine), but he doesn’t mind.
Beverly slowly falls to pieces. Elliot soon succumbs to the trappings as well, and they both become addicts. Somehow they manage to maintain their careers during these tumultuous times. At Beverly’s most warped stage of his mind, he constructs a series of grotesque surgical instruments designed to operate on the bodies of mutated women (did I mention, this is not a date movie?). The design of the instruments is classic Cronenberg, a mixture of metal and organic body forms, part alien, part insect, part human. What they do with the instruments is truly horrifying and more disturbing than anything Cronenberg has done then or since. As I mentioned before, it all happens off camera, but the mere glimpse of the instruments conjures up every detail without showing it.
The film is about the insular world the twins live in and how their psychotic disorders combine to make them greater than the sum of their parts. Individually they could be regular people but together they are a nightmare. The final image is brilliant, two brothers lying together, the light and positioning of their bodies appear to have them intertwined or fused together like Siamese Twins - which is exactly what they wanted to be all along.
Like the tapeworm analogy, the film slowly and hypnotically seeps into your system before you realize you’re completely disgusted by it and when the film is over, even though you want it out of your system, it will linger and remain with you for a long time.
Buy it here: Dead Ringers - Criterion Collection
Unfortunately only one youtube clip exists. It’s in French: