Dead Ringers (1988)

Dead Ringers (1988), directed by David Cronenberg.

A body horror film particularly unpopular with women. Which is understandable: when the drug deranged gynecologist starts ranting about how "the women's bodies are all wrong!" and designs Giger-esque metal instruments for the examination of mutant females, we can expect a certain percentage of the audience to hit the exits. I find it tense myself, but that is the essence of this type of horror: making you look at things you would rather not see.

It unfolds like a tragedy; there isn't that much plot, just the excruciating decline and fall of the twin doctors. Although the women they date can't tell them apart (the brothers share everything) they do have distinct personalities: Elliot is cool, calculating, and cruel in the way men are with women; Beverly is more sensitive and rather feminine, needing love and tenderness. They have a sort of marriage and are constantly "flirting" with each other. Their desire for shared women sometimes just seems an excuse to get closer.

Beverly causes the fracture, falling in love with patient Geneviève Bujold, a actress who needs to be punished, having a taste for bondage, which is handy, surgeons keeping rubber tubing and clamps in stock. Her outrage at discovering she's been enjoying two-for-one sends him into a breakdown, dementia, and drug addiction. The stronger twin must go with him; they have no life apart from each other.

It's all pretty wrenching and a sad story, even though we do not find any of the characters terribly sympathetic.

Inspired, believe it or not, by true events, the lives and deaths of twin gynecologists Stewart and Cyril Marcus.

The twin effects are skillfully done here, neither stressing them with cleverness nor hiding them, but just presenting Jeremy Irons twice in a relaxed way that makes it easier to accept. We have only a couple of composited scenes with both characters in full view.

Cronenberg entered his mature period with Videodrome (1983) and gets better as a director through the decade. The color and production design are very nice, a big step up from his early body-horror small films.

Howard Shore score.

Shout Factory Blu-ray with two versions, identical apart from aspect ratio: the director wanted 1.66, the theatrical version is 1.85.

Jeremy Irons provides a thoughtful commentary track. He enjoyed the dual-role challenge.