Film Review: Dead Ringers (1988)

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Film: Dead Ringers
Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: Jeremy Irons, Genevieve Bujold, Heidi Von Palleske
Release Date: 09/23/88 (theatres) / 06/07/05 (DVD)
Studio: Morgan Creek / Warner Home Video
Tagline: Two bodies. Two minds. One soul. Separation can be a terrifying thing.
Plot: “The Mantle brothers are both doctors – both gynecologists – and identical twins. Mentally however, one of them is more confident than the other, and always manages to seduce the women he meets. When he’s tired of his current partner, she is passed on to the other brother – without her knowing. Everything runs smoothly, until an actress visits their clinic, and the shy brother is the first to fall in love. Will they be able to ‘share’ her?” (Source: IMDB)

Review Score:  5 / 5

With diverse projects ranging from horrors like The Brood to his recent sci-fi drama Cosmopolis, it’s easier to understand why director David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers stands as a mid-career peak.  All the standard body-horror themes are present, but first began his venture into another area – the mind.  After the lead role being dismissed by actors Robert DeNiro and William Hurt, Jeremy Irons took on the challenge of portraying twin brothers.  Much like audiences, a part that eventually made Irons realize the confusion surrounding which twin was which, and thus the internalization process for him to play one or the other.  The film was released to critical acclaim (83% consensus based on 35 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes) and has continued to receive praise from critics and audiences alike.

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A film that begins with two young boys discussing, of all things, fish sex.  But these introductory scenes later serve an important purpose in establishing the unique dichotomy of renowned twin gynecologists Elliot and Beverly Mantle (Jeremy Irons).  Their relationship goes beyond blood, beyond clinical practice.  The confident, domineering Elliot serves as the face and voice whereas passive, introverted Beverly is the brain. Together, they are the dream team – Shaq and Kobe, Bonnie and Clyde, Batman and Robin.  With degrees, careers, and inventions in their name…the world of gynecology is their oyster.  But, for every strength must come a weakness.  And what better, or worse, an irony to the Mantle story than their tragic unraveling at the hands of a woman, actress Claire Niveau (Genevieve Bujold).  Claire’s exotic lifestyle of prescription narcotics and sexual exploration temporarily helps the brothers’ disguise their promiscuity.   Appearances are not everything, however, and Claire confronts the two head-on.  Beverly takes the break-up particularly hard, and succumbs to a drug-fueled depression that spirals the brother’s careers, lives and relationship into total chaos.

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Even today, Dead Ringers stands as one of the most devastating stories ever told.  Based on the true life story of Stewart and Cyril Marcus, found dead of drug overdose in their New York apartment, Cronenberg took this heart-wrenching event and created a masterpiece with many of his trademark themes deeply imbedded.

The themes mimic ones found in his 1996 fetishized drama Crash.  In Crash, film producer James Ballard (James Spader) becomes part of a group of people who get sexually aroused from car accidents.  First, this ‘pain for pleasure’ concept can be used similarly to describe the Mantle’s duel-relationship with Claire.  Claire’s discovery of the brother’s game affects Beverly in particular, and fuels his addiction (pleasure) once he becomes isolated from her when she departs overseas for a film shoot (pain).  Next, the idea of ‘attachment’ reduced to a callous impulse.  In Crash, the group exploits their sexual fantasy by re-creating famous car crashes.  For the Mantle brothers, their genetic attachment has degraded into a game, whom until Claire, preyed on people’s inability to tell them apart.  Finally, the effects that attaching to these painful pleasures has on fragile minds and the ultimate end that awaits: death. Elliot was not Elliot without Beverly, and vice versa.  While able to disguise themselves in the bed, they were unable to do so in their careers.  And with attachment comes sharing in all those pains and pleasures, thus their demise was inevitable.  At the end scenes of Crash, James has a self-realization of this notion and yet cannot free himself from this destiny.  Were the Mantle twins actions, and untimely deaths, self-inflicted (artificial) or were they victims of their genetic make-up (nature)?

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Dead Ringers (1988) IMDB
Dead Ringers (1988) YouTube Trailer
Dead Ringers (1988) Amazon

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One Response to Film Review: Dead Ringers (1988)

  1. Victor De Leon says:

    Great write up of a very overlooked and under-rated movie. You are so right about this mid-career high point for DC. Good job!

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