- Jeremy Irons as Beverly Mantle/Elliot Mantle
- Geneviève Bujold as Claire Niveau
A haunting and unusually devastating psychological drama from David Cronenberg, Dead Ringers show him at some of his most talented and most restrained. Even without the overt gore of his other movies, Cronenberg fashions Dead Ringers into something that really gets under your skin.
Beverly and Elliot Mantle are identical twins and gynecologists, who are well-respected in their field and have been known for their bright ideas from a very young age. While the brothers are identical in terms of their physical appearance, they are very different when it comes to their personalities. Elliot is the suave, well-spoken one, while Beverly is quiet and awkward. The brothers are unusually close and even live in the same apartment as well as operating the same business in Toronto, Canada. The two brothers have a certain arrangement that they have done for years. With Elliot being the cad of the two, he seduces many women and when he grows bored with them, secretly passes them on to the shy Beverly. Due to them both being identical in looks, the women remain unaware of any such change. Yet this very perverse practice is shaken with the arrival of actress Claire Niveau as a patient. She comes to their clinic due to her infertility, which is diagnosed as a trifurcated cervix, which makes it very unlikely that she could bear children. Elliot soon seduces Claire, who is an unusually passionate but troubled and at times masochistic woman and then passes her on to the quiet Beverly. But as they flip with their identities and toy with her affections, Claire begins to notice differences and calls them out. The inconsiderate Elliot is not really bothered that Claire severs ties, but for the sensitive Beverly, it truly devastates him as he has fallen in love with her and for once in his life wanted something that he didn’t share with his twin. Eventually, Beverly manages to talk to Claire and she continues her relationship with just him. Yet with this new love comes Claire introducing Beverly to prescription drugs of which he soon becomes addicted to. And after Claire temporarily leaves to work on a film, Beverly begins to crumble and become more delusional. Elliot panics about this and decides he must take drastic and horrifying action as their symbiotic closeness is torn apart from beneath them and shattered forever.
David Cronenberg creates an arresting film on a psychological level that delves into certain themes and brings horrifying parts of them out in a slightly more clinical way than usual. He wisely doesn’t judge the character’s actions and portrays them as all flawed people, rather than the good twin and the bad twin. His unnerving directorial stamp is definitely over Dead Ringers, no doubt about that. But there is a level of restraint to the film that lets haunting atmosphere and consequences spring from the examination of the unusual relationship shared by Beverly and Elliot. There are about two sequences that will make viewers feel a bit queasy, in particular the creepy dream scene of the brother conjoined by a disgusting growth. But scenes like this one are integral to the story that Dead Ringers tells and thankfully they don’t detract from the psychological nature of the movie at all. It is the relationship and the breaking apart of it between the twins that holds the most disturbing factor in the narrative. Both of them have distinct personalities, but by being physically identical, they are in essence robbed of one form of individuality. They are extremely codependent on the other and dark actions and shifts in events that happen to one of them, has a bearing on the other in strange fashion as they both fall apart. A deep sense of tragedy lingers over Dead Ringers and the deliberate pacing helps this take shape, as both Elliot and Beverly confront their dependence on the other and how they are in a sense one soul in two bodies and personalities. A melancholy score from Howard Shore underlines the theme of inevitable tragedy and melding of personas for the two twins with a haunting sadness that is difficult to escape.
Further adding to the success of the unusual film is the stellar work from the cast, in particular a marvellous Jeremy Irons. Essaying the two twins must have been a challenge to do, but Irons plays the role without a hint of nervousness. He delineates the two distinct personalities with deep effect and conviction; from Elliot’s flagrant seductive outlook that turns to horror to the shy and passive movements of Beverly, the more sensitive and sympathetic sibling. He turns in two excellent performances, that through subtle gestures, let us see the differences between the two but also how similar and bound to each other they are. It truly is masterful work from Jeremy Irons that showcases him at his very best. As the wedge that comes between the brothers, Geneviève Bujold is also excellent, conveying intelligence but an inability to realize what she has set in motion by entering the Mantle’s lives and introducing Beverly to drugs.
Disquieting, riveting and bolstered by the bravura work of Jeremy Irons and Geneviève Bujold, Dead Ringers will leave you floored and chilled with its examination of identity, dependency and sibling relationships.