DEAD RINGERS (director/writer: David Cronenberg; screenwriters: from the book Twins by Bari Wood & Jack Geasland/Norman Snider; cinematographer: Peter Suschitzky; editor: Ronald Sanders; music: Howard Shore; cast: Jeremy Irons (Beverly Mantle/Elliott Mantle), Genevieve Bujold (Claire Niveau), Heidi von Palleske (Cary Weiler); Runtime: 115; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Marc Boyman/David Cronenberg; Warner Brothers; 1988-Canada)
It’s one of Cronenberg’s more complex relationship tales, that puts a deadly spin on separation, loss and hopeless love.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

David Cronenberg (“The Fly”/”Videodrome”/”Shivers”) bases this intense psychological medical drama on a true story about identical twin gynecologists Stewart L. Marcus and Cyril C. Marcus, whose decayed bodies were found in their posh East 63rd Street pad. Stewart apparently died several days before Cyril, and the cause of death was blamed on a barbiturate withdrawal. Bari Wood and Jack Geasland based their 1977 fictional novel, Twins, on that bizarre incident. Cronenberg and Norman Snider, the cowriters, take so many liberties until it completely meets the director’s usual themes of existential horror, the battle of the sexes, the macabre contraptions used in medical treatment, the arrogance of the medical profession and falls into line as a classic study of mortality. The director almost entirely invents his own pathological take on that fact-based story. Jeremy Irons superbly acts as both Beverly Mantle and Elliott Mantle, the names of the scientifically gifted identical twin gynecologists who sub for the real doctors. In the ten or so shots when the twins were on the screen together, Cronenberg used a stand-in played by John Bayliss. Irons’ performance earned him the Best Actor award by the New York Film Critics Circle.

It follows the Mantle twins from their nerdy pre-adolescent days in Toronto in 1954 when they exclaim that water creatures can have sex without touching to their inventive student medical school days in Cambridge, Mass., in 1967, where they invented an instrument to be used in the uterus that became the standard and made them rich and famous; and it picks up their story with the twins having a successful clinic for infertile women in Toronto in 1988.

Beverly is reserved, withdrawn and inclined to do the research part of their work, while Elliott is extroverted, more confident and excels in smoothing things over through his gift for gab and being cynical. The identical twins not only share the same medical practice, posh apartment but also the same women. When famous hedonist actress Claire Niveau (Genevieve Bujold) is a patient at the clinic for her fertility problem, the two doctors unethically have sex with the unsuspecting woman while pretending to be one person. Claire soon discovers the truth, and the weaker Beverly finds he has fallen in love with her.

The fragility of Claire and Beverly is revealed, as she gets him addicted on pills like she is to kill the anguish and they both crave love to fill their void. Beverly for the first time wants to keep something for his own, and begins to separate from his twin. This creates great problems since it disrupts the delicate symbiotic balance between the brothers and it plunges Beverly into a vortex of despair that he can’t deal with alone; and, not only can’t Eliott help, but when he tries he gets pulled into that dark vortex with tragic results.

It’s one of Cronenberg’s more complex relationship tales, that puts a deadly spin on separation, loss and hopeless love.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”


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