Dead Ringers

A part of this view­ing list: Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion Spine #21: David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers.


Dead Ringers is based on a true sto­ry about iden­ti­cal twin gyne­col­o­gist drug addicts; both played by Jere­my Irons. The film is a psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller deeply con­cerned with obses­sion, sex­u­al­i­ty and co-depen­dence. Cro­nen­berg doesn’t over­do the shots that con­tain both Man­tle broth­ers, but the most effec­tive aspect of the film is also the sub­tlest, there are vir­tu­al­ly no exte­ri­or shots apart from the begin­ning and end. So the entire film occu­pies a claus­tro­pho­bic inter­nal space both phys­i­cal­ly and psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly, and these spaces tend to reflect each oth­er as the plot devel­ops. The twins are Elliot and Bev­er­ly, both male, Elliot the old­est and extro­vert­ed, the busi­ness­man and mar­keter of the two; Bev­er­ly younger and reserved, the med­ical genius. They share every­thing, includ­ing patients, includ­ing bang­ing patients. In par­tic­u­lar, an actress with a tri­fur­cat­ed uterus named Claire Niveau. Jesus Christ, you’ve got­ta love Cro­nen­berg.


Bev­er­ly becomes attached to Claire and vice ver­sa, until she learns that she banged Elliot ini­tial­ly. They break up but get back togeth­er. Beverly’s love of Claire begins to sep­a­rate him from Elliot and their rela­tion­ship changes in small ways at first, but when Bev starts pill-pop­ping his per­son­al­i­ty begins to degrade rapid­ly. His nadir results in his attempts to oper­ate on a using “gynae­co­log­i­cal instru­ments for oper­at­ing on mutant women”. Elliot has his own psy­cho­log­i­cal eccen­tric­i­ties asso­ci­at­ed with his twin­ship [at one point he gets twin escorts and has one of them call him Elliot and the oth­er Bev­er­ly]. He also attempts to score a three­some with his broth­er and his girl­friend. When detox­ing Bev­er­ly fails, Elliot decides that he needs to start tak­ing drugs as well to get back on the same wave­length, so they can get off the drugs togeth­er. They deserve a Dar­win Award for that idea.


There is no easy res­o­lu­tion to the myr­i­ad ques­tions about gen­der, abnor­mal phys­i­ol­o­gy and psy­chol­o­gy, sex­u­al deviance and rela­tion­ships that are raised in this film. The res­o­lu­tion instead comes in the form of an abhorred pity for the Man­tle broth­ers and a feel­ing of relief that such trou­bled souls find their rest. Mean­while, the casu­al view­er is left with the need to exam­ine his or her own pre­dis­po­si­tions about the nature of human rela­tion­ship and cul­tur­al con­for­ma­tion. In this sense, this film owes a debt to Tod Browning’s Freaks. The ref­er­ences to the first set of con­joined twins is also rel­e­vant in this con­text, and the moral of the film, if there is one, is that deviance from the norm has dis­as­trous con­se­quences, even if the deviant par­ties are inno­cent in and of them­selves. Or per­haps, that the heavy pres­sure to con­form has dis­as­trous con­se­quences to offer anoth­er side of the same coin.