Thursday, September 10, 2009

Dead Ringers

Being a twin myself, I think I'm in a position to adequately judge this movie, as far as the portrayal of twinning goes. Unfortunately, portrayals of twins in literature and film rarely have anything to do with accurate representation of what being a twin is like... and honestly, it would be kind of boring if that was the aim. This, er, condition, if you want to call it that, offers an incomparable stage for authors to play out their complexes.

In Cronenberg's film, Jeremy Irons turns in a brilliant performance as both Beverly and Elliot Mantle. Not only does he act out a good half of the film against himself, but he creates two very different characters without taking the easy way out and polarizing them entirely. Both are very real and unique, while also being subtly similar, as real twins might be. Irons' performance is just one thing that makes this film great. The rest has to do with the atmospherics that Cronenberg always brings to his films, as well as psychological turmoil, and good ol' Howard Shore tagging along to create mood music.

The brothers, although obvious individuals (one course, one more gentle), live life almost as if they were a unit. They share a profession (incidentally, at a fertility clinic), an apartment, and the sleep with the same women. When Claire (Genevieve Bujold) steps into the office, Beverly and Elliot prey on her immediately. It is this misstep that sends a unfathomable chain of events rocketing into motion. Claire is no ordinary woman. She is an actress. She wants a baby... She has three sets of ovaries. Unlike most people, she is perceptive enough to figure out on her own that she is sleeping with two different men.

This film is an exploration of the surface and the metaphysical that lies behind it. The Mantle brothers are preoccupied with inner beauty in the way most people are preoccupied with outer beauty. But their version of inner beauty is equally superficial. They are fascinated by internal organs. It is perhaps even more unsettling that the human obsession with outer beauty. In film and subsequently, often in reality, the appearance of a person is perceived to be symbolic of the kind of person they are. When it comes to admiring the beauty of internal organs, what exactly is the denotation? Presumably, all organs are nearly exactly the same. Interestingly, the internal organs the brothers have primary contact with are the female sexual and reproduction organs--the origins of life. Beverly and Elliot cannot seem to fathom their own uniqueness, as they are physically identical. Claire, on the other hand, has, out of necessity split her outer self from her metaphysical self; she is an actress. Her constantly changing facade represents nothing of what she actually is.

One of my favorite scenes was especially representative of this. Claire is in the make up room. We see her in profile as Elliot comes to visit her, to rectify what he and Beverly have done and to get her back. He insinuates that most women are more than happy to overlook the difference between them, and to take them both. Claire refuses him. During their conversation, the camera jumps from the initial profile to her opposite cheek, on which a bruise has been colorfully applied with make up. "Are we really that different?" he asks. "Yes," she replies, "you really are."

It is interesting that this is the woman they both initially fall for: imperfect by their standards of "inner beauty", and also incapable of conceiving.

Later, we get into more Cronenbergian territory when Beverly has special tools made up for dealing with "mutant women." As he becomes more tortured (as his relationship with his brother becomes more tortured), he becomes frightened by the women he sees, claiming that their bodies are "all wrong." His tools look like Medieval torture instruments, with no discernible purpose. In the operating room, Elliot is suited for surgery in a red, full-bodied gown that looks like something out of A Handmaid's Tail. Framed in the window with arms outstretched, he is some kind of twisted Prometheus. With the power he holds over human conception, he is, perhaps the closest thing to a God on earth.

This was my first time viewing this film, and though it failed to answer any questions for me, the meditation it inspired was fantastic. Sometime soon I'm going to give it another try, but not before it must go back to the library, from whence it came.


  1. this review is a roflcopta. the color red officially tweaks me out now. thnx dlynch.

  2. and now i must go back to a bed, from whence i came