Beverly and Elliott Mantle (Jeremy Irons) are twin gynaecologists who are pioneers in their field - they even designed a new instrument while still at university which went on to be widely used in the profession. But their lives have been intertwined since they were children, their fascination with the internal workings of the female body an obsession for years, which has led them to grow into adults who are two halves of the same person. One half, Elliott, is outgoing and confident, representing the brothers in public, yet Beverly is more reserved... more unstable.
Oddly, David Cronenberg's horror-inflected drama was based on a true story about twin gynaecologists from the nineteen-seventies who had been found dead in their shared New York apartment after withdrawal from drug addiction, although he did not stick utterly to the facts of their case, as for a start the actual brothers were gay rather than caught up in the mystery of women to the point of distraction. Dead Ringers represented a turning point in the director's oeuvre, as it showed his interest in the psychological becoming more overt as he began to eschew the body horror of his previous, signature works.
Not that there was a lack of body horror here, it was just that most if it was concentrating on innards rather than anything manifesting itself on the outside. The trigger for Beverly's madness is the movie star Claire Niveau (Geneviève Bujold), who is in their home city of Toronto for a job and has opted to visit them because she wants children. They discover the reason she cannot is that she has three cervixes, so no matter how much she sleeps around she will never conceive, yet it's the sleeping around bit which interests Elliott. He starts seeing her, but also sending his brother along when he cannot make it, only Claire remains none the wiser.
This is Elliott helping out Beverly in his mind, but what he's actually doing is sowing the seeds of their destruction as Claire finds out about the subterfuge and understandably is less than pleased. If there is humour in Dead Ringers, it is of the pitch black variety, but you can see why Elliott finds this amusing when Beverly assuredly does not, especially when the latter bears the brunt of Claire's disdain. That doesn't stop her forgiving him, noticing his remorse and mental fragility, but it's not enough: Beverly is well on the road to insanity, being in love for the first time and too much of an entity with his twin to cope with striking out on his own as the male sexuality both siblings represent two parts of comes undone.
You could see this as oddly misogynistic, pinning the blame on the disintegration of these two men on the introduction of a third, feminine party, yet Cronenberg's cooly observant style resists any such pat pronouncements. Unfortunately, it tended to resist much entertainment either as while you were admiring Irons' brilliant performances as he truly inhabited two separate characters (his concentration must have been incredible, never mind how much he was helped by special effects) you could not honestly warm very much to this tale, and you understood why many found it boring rather than disturbing. It was a film you had to meet halfway, and even then that meant you had to accept such queasy concepts as Beverly's surgical instruments for operating on mutant women, but such was its icy stare that some Cronenberg fans longed for his more visceral, earlier works, and to a certain extent still do. Music by Howard Shore.
Highly regarded Canadian writer/director who frequently combines intellectual concerns with genre subjects. Began directing in the late-70s with a series of gruesome but socially aware horror thrillers, such as Shivers, Rabid and The Brood. 1981's Scanners was Cronenberg's commercial breakthrough, and if the hallucinatory Videodrome was box office flop, it remains one of the finest films of his career. The sombre Stephen King adaptation The Dead Zone and the hugely successful remake of The Fly followed.
The disturbing Dead Ringers (1988) was a watershed film, based for the first time entirely in reality and featuring a career-best performance from Jeremy Irons. The 1990s saw Cronenberg in uncompromising form, adapting a pair of "unfilmable" modern classics - Burrough's Naked Lunch and Ballard's Crash - in typically idiosyncratic style. M. Butterfly was something of a misfire, but eXistenZ surprised many by being fast-moving and funny, while 2002's powerful Spider saw Cronenberg at his most art-house.