Dead Ringers (1988), or My Dearest Brother…

10 12 2009

I know I’ve probably seen too many Cronenberg movies on this website for you to care anymore, but I really could not resist this time. Dead Ringers is a force of nature, a psychological descent into the lives of two codependent twins. From the first five minutes, you are completely absorbed by the setting of it all. Cronenberg, yet again, breaks all pre-conceived notions of what reality is and throws it away, opting for something more surreal, more visceral, more subversive. And this time he even pushes the envelope against himself by pinning his hopes on an actor, rather than his own genius. Luckily, Jeremy Irons is the kind of actor you can pin a movie on (usually), and this film is the better because of it.

It follows the lives of twin gynecologists (!!!) Beverly and Elliot Mantle. They are two seriously codependent brothers who have a slightly disturbing relationship with one another. Elliot is the ambitious, fiery brother, and he has a huge appetite for women. Beverly happens to be a bit more reserved, which cramps his brother’s style a lot. The two have a good business going together, as well as a good formula to get them both laid. Elliot will get the mood going with his go-getter attitude, wooing the ladies as fast as he can to get what he wants. When he tires of them, he hands them off to twin Beverly, where the women are none the wiser. One of the women they examine as a patient though, named Claire, entices Beverly, and he finds himself in love with her. She has a rare gynecological condition, a trifurcation, that makes it nearly impossible to have children. Elliot thinks it’s all silly, and that he should move on, but Beverly genuinely likes her and wants to be with her. But when he thinks she might be cheating on him, it brings out the worst in him, and he begins to have psychotic delusions about weird genitals and evil women. Can he snap out of it before it’s too late? Or will this jealousy consume him and his secretly codependent brother?

Cronenberg makes Dead Ringers in his world of bizarre, surreal psychological world where the physical and the emotional become one, the ethereal flesh of nightmares encroaching on our living existence. This time, the setting is the glitz and materialism of the late 80s in the big city. Elliot Mantle is the poster child for excess and blatant materialism during the ME generation. The city is oppressive in its posh luxury, and we only sense it when Beverly cuts through reality and into his delusions. Cronenberg always enjoys the cleverest of shots, and it just goes to show you that the power of the auteur is nothing to scoff at. Nobody can work with this material like Cronenberg can because he wrote the damn thing and knows just what needs to be done to visualize it. Where the movie really surprises me is not the amazing phantasmagorical dream sequences, but how engaging the movie is when it is just Beverly and Elliot. It’s about as normal as this director gets, just relaying the relationship between family members who could not be more opposite, even though they’re twins.

And, damn it, Jeremy Irons scores as the dual character of Beverly and Elliot. He deserves a little double time for al the work he put in. His crass and selfish Elliot is very true to what I think a lot of people were buying into as the 80s ended, a dark and unhealthy dream of excess and endless drugs and women that is seemingly destined to vanish. Elliot’s depth is found though when we see how much he really loves his brother. Beverly is also fond of his brother, but in a much more overt, obvious way. Irons’s real achievement is making multiple layers of Beverly’s character by fleshing out his unbalanced nature. He is doomed to spill over the edge, and it seems that love will be the thing that pushes him over. Genevieve Bujold plays Beverly’s love interest, Claire. She is very mysterious at first, but I like how much she warms up to Irons. They have such a good chemistry together here! It’s a very nice performance that makes for great drama later on in the story as Beverly deteriorates.

I think Dead Ringers is a great movie with a unique sense of self that plays like a horror movie but feels like a psychological drama. Cronenberg audiences know what they want to see, so this will certainly not disappoint, and new folks to Cronenberg’s works need to know only that there is significantly less freakiness than he is famed for. I think Jeremy Irons did a top-notch job here, and he seemed to be a good candidate for Cronenberg to place his trust in, when one considers how much the twins had to carry the film and how much combined time they get. I think you’ll like it a lot, weirdness and all. I give Dead Ringers 9 twin gynecologists out of 10! A high recommendation!

Tomorrow I don’t have a clue what I’ll be watching! We shall see soon! Until then!

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