Movie Review : Dead Ringers (1988)
This month's audience suggestion for movies came from my friend and blogger Ola Elnaggar, who wanted me to review David Cronenberg's low-key body horror classic Dead Ringers, featuring Jeremy Irons and Geneviève Bujold. Cronenberg is an iconic director known for exploring various genres, disturbing themes and gleefully indulging into excessive gore whenever he can, making him one of my favorite artists working today. If you're not convinced, watch his blood-soaked crime movie A History of Violence, which ages better with every viewing. It's a timeless gem. Speaking of which, Dead Ringers lives up to David Cronenberg's infamous reputation. Let's examine what makes it so good and so...Cronenberg-ian.
The story of Dead Ringers centers around Elliot and Beverly Mantle (both played by a Jeremy Irons in tip-top acting shape), identical twins running a successful and groundbreaking gynecology practice in Toronto, Canada. They look...well, indistinguishable from one another, yet couldn't be any more different psychologically. Elliot is the extroverted one, running the business side of the clinic and Beverly is the introverted genius who's groundbreaking research is the entire foundation of their success. They live together in perfect symbiosis * until the day Beverly examines Claire Niveau (Geneviève Bujold) a famous actress with a cervix mutation. Elliot first seduces Niveau and then encourages Beverly to have sex with her. The shy brother sheepishly obliges and falls in love with the actress, throwing the precarious balance of their lives out of wack.
Dead Ringers primarily explores the theme of symbiosis. It asks the bizarre, yet fundamental question: are all twins Siamese twins in some way? Are they bound to one another by something other than flesh? David Cronenberg illustrates this in various ways in the movie. The most obvious being Elliot and Beverly's constant references to Chang and Eng, the first ever Siamese twins. Beverly dreams, in one of the movie's most notorious scenes, of being joined at the chest with Elliot like Chang and Eng were. In that dream, Claire devours that link between Elliot and Beverly, symbolizing the anxiety Beverly feels at fostering a relationship outside the one with his brother. The symbiosis between Elliot and Beverly also reflects in their work. Each need the other to be successful. To a point David Cronenberg leads to do wonder if they're the same person living in two bodies **.
There's one strange element of Dead Ringers that caught my attention. I wouldn't call it a detail because there are no such things as details in David Cronenberg movies. The bizarre, ceremonious surgery attire (pictured above). The correct term for surgery attire is "cardinal gown" and these reflect how actual Catholic cardinals dressed hundred of years ago, so I'm inclined to believe it was just Cronenberg using a tongue-in-cheek joke for visual effect. Because these scenes would not be as memorable without the bizarre, surreal use of Catholic imagery and the deliberate overuse of red. Society has been gradually phasing out religion since the 1950s, hailing science as its new savior and I believe these scenes were David Cronenberg own uncomfortable way of reminding of us that one dogma could be just as fucked up as another. After all, Dead Ringers was released in 1988. That was a long-ass time ago.
I loved Dead Ringers. I might've been already sold to David Cronenberg by the time I've seen it (this was my second viewing of the movie), but it marks an important evolution in his career. It's when he started veering away from over-the-top body horror and started adopting a more subtle and understated aesthetic, reinventing his use of gore. It's a precursor to some of his more challenging movies such as Spider and A Dangerous Method. Not all of you will be interested in a movie that will soon by thirty years old, but Dead Ringers is well worth watching if you're planning to binge some Cronenberg movies anytime soon. There's just no horror movies like that being made anymore.
* Keep that term in mind, it'll be important later.
** Quick anecdote: I've always had a preternatural talent at telling twins apart, which lead me to get along well with them. In high school, there was this girl I was getting along great who had a twin sister I didn't get along with at all. I told her one day how different I thought she was from her sister. I'll always remember her answer: "It's a really bizarre thing to hear. Because in my mind, we're the same person."