Dead Ringers

Friday, 20 July 2007

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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