In terms of their reliance on one another, how closely may two identical twins be related? What is the narrow line that separates love from obsession? Dead Ringers, a fantastic film directed by David Cronenberg, explores these and other intriguing themes.
For many, Cronenberg is a quirky film filmmaker, and for the vast majority of people, weird and different equates to awful. However, we are enthralled by Cronenberg’s approach to studying the human psyche, which he does better than ever in this picture!
Yes, films like Videodrome, The Fly, and Spider have all explored human psyche in depth, but the director has exceeded himself with Dead Ringers.
In this video, we’ll get into the nitty-gritty of this incredible film, from the plot to the various theories for the unusual tale. It is not a typical commercial picture for the average moviegoer, but if you allow yourself to get drawn into the complicated universe of Dead Ringers, you will be rewarded with a thought-provoking and mind-boggling experience.
A Detailed Synopsis
Before we get into any more details about the film, let’s go over the plot. The narrative begins in 1954 in Toronto, with two identical young twin boys, Elliott and BeverlyMantle. They have a nerdy demeanour and appear to be captivated by the concepts of sex and human evolution.
They appear to be enticed by the concept, and each approach a young girl with an offer of sex. The tiny girl walks away from the evil twins, horrified and disgusted! The following scene is a quick flashback to 1967 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The young boys have progressed to the point where they are studying medicine and working passionately in a medical lab with some novel ideas. They come up with a retractor machine that is rather unique, and they are awarded for their efforts. However, only one of the brothers is there to receive the award.
When he comes back to the dorm and asks the other why he wasn’t present, he simply replies that he was! It shows that the brothers are so connected that they thrive on each other’s experiences to the point where they almost share them!
There is another flash-forward of 21 years, and we are now in present-day Toronto. The Mantle brothers are now successful doctors who are almost stars in their fields. Among the two brothers, Elliot is more like the aggressive and outgoing character, while Beverly is more comfortable in the shadows.
Elliot is the smooth-talking public face, and Beverly is more introverted and pursues research. Elliot is a few minutes older, a few millimetres taller, and a shade darker physically, but it’s too difficult to tell at a glance. Claire Niveau, a reasonably well-known actress, visits their facility for infertility treatment one fine day.
She has a trifurcated cervix, which is basically three openings in her uterus, according to a thorough examination. Elliot is enthralled by this anomaly, nearly to the point of being seduced by it! During his conversations with Claire, he is as boisterous and forceful as always, even stating unequivocally that she will never be able to have children.
The brothers had this system where they shared their women, and because of the unbelievable similarities between them, the women could never tell the difference. It starts off with Claire as well, and we see the brothers switching the appointments with Claire.
Elliot convinces Beverly to have a tryst with Claire, same as he did, and despite his apprehension, Beverly goes ahead. However, trouble starts brewing when Beverly develops feelings for this lady and is no longer keen to share his experience with Elliot.
This causes a mini-feud and miscommunication between the inseparable brothers, and Beverly ultimately tells Claire that he has a twin brother. She taunts him at first, implying that he might be psychotic, but after lunch with Laura, she learns about the twins Beverly and Elliot. She discovers, to her surprise, that she has no idea who she is sleeping with.
She tells Elliot about her ordeal, and he is plainly upset that their secret has been disclosed. He does, however, agree to set up a meeting in which both brothers will be present. Claire explains that she is aware of how the two brothers have been abusing and exploiting her at their dinner meeting. As she storms off, Elliot is somewhat amused by the turn of events. Beverly, however, has developed strong feelings for Claire, and is saddened by the situation.
It is from this moment that there seems to be great discord in the relationship between the two brothers. We see Beverly arriving at an award ceremony in a drunken state. It is so unlike him to be a part of some public event, but he attends the event in sheer frustration.
He even rants about Elliot taking a lot of credit for his hard work. The two brothers do, however, momentarily reconcile. We learn that Elliot has been offered a job, and there are clues that the brothers’ long-standing friendship may be ending shortly. Beverly makes amends to Claire, and the two enjoy a wonderful evening together!
However, he has some frightening nightmares about Claire physically separating him from Elliot that night. Trauma intensifies drug use that was already present. Elliot, on the other hand, is attempting to adjust to his new surroundings.
He fornicates with identical twin prostitutes and tells them to call him by both his own and his brother’s names throughout the act. We realize the true extent of their association and how messed up their brotherly bond is! Elliot even tries to persuade Claire not to see Beverly any longer, but she rejects the idea stating that Beverly is very different from Elliot, and she even rejects his advances.
Claire has to leave the town for some contractual work, and Beverly goes further down the drug abuse lane. His insecurities take over and turn him into an obsessive maniac who keeps doubting the loyalties of his girlfriend.
When he calls the hotel Claire is living in, her secretary answers the phone. Beverly thinks that it is her lover, and he even tells him about her strange mutation. He then storms off to meet Elliot and tells him about the affair that Claire is having.
On his work front, the relationship ordeal hits him hard. He makes a metal-smith redesign some of the medical tools, and he thinks that these tools would effectively deal with the mutations that he wants to treat. Elliot’s drug problem increases as well, and overall, the practice of both brothers is suffering terribly.
During one instant, Elliot freaks out on the operating table while he is trying to use the new tools. Although he tries his best to manage the situation, the medical board forces them to close their practice.
He keeps up his freewheeling dating practises, forcing Beverly to dance with his girlfriend, Cary, on one of their outings. Beverly breaks away when he realises they are about to seduce him. His health has taken a terrible toll as a result of his drug addiction, and he collapses.
He’s rushed to the hospital, and Elliot decides to help him overcome his addiction and detox. He confines Beverly to the clinic that will function as his rehab facility as he battles his addiction.
But Elliot is unable to fight his own drug abuse, and it keeps increasing by the day. His girlfriend Cary is seemingly worried about his behavior and even tells him how he is steadily becoming more and more like Beverly.
Elliot states that all he wants is to get synchronized with his brother, and it is at this point that the audience realizes the hopelessness of the situation. Claire is back again, and she seems to have sorted out the terrible mix-up with her secretary. She asks Beverly to meet her once, but he is locked in the clinic.
With some desperate efforts, he manages to break free, and en route, he spots an art exhibition that is showing the tools he had the metal-smith make.
The meeting with Claire is futile because Beverly has already gone too far! He requests that she write a prescription for the medications he need, but she refuses. In a dazed state, he returns to the clinic and discovers that the office has been ransacked, and Elliot is in the shower, completely inebriated.
They resolve to do all possible to overcome their addiction, but it is already too late! Elliot has the voice of a child, and they’re both in a bad drug-induced haze. In these circumstances, Beverly operates on his brother with the equipment he created. When he wakes up from his drug-induced slumber, he discovers Elliot has been disembowelled.
Beverly has now lost it completely, and he somehow cleans up and gets packed, prepared to leave. He even calls up Claire, but when he is asked who is calling, he cannot formulate an answer. We realize that his identity crisis has reached its epitome, and he is in a permanently dazed state. The film ends as we see him heading upstairs and collapsing by his brother, intertwined with Elliot!
Our Take on the Classic
It’s impossible to resist our collective obsession with twins. It’s gotten to the point where even a twin sharing a nod or a glance with the other feels like they’re communicating telepathically! Dead Ringers was originally going to be called Twins because it focuses so much on this subject.
David Cronenberg has never shied away from exploiting the possibilities of abnormalities in his films, and this time is no exception. Stewart and Cyril Marcus were real-life identical-twin gynaecologists in New York, and the plot is partially based on their experiences.
It is believed that they died on the same day from their barbiturate addiction, and the movie fuses this with Cronenberg’s good old theme of psychological scars. He brings us two messed-up geniuses, Elliot and Beverly.
The former is more of the dominant twin, and he knows his way around women. He seduces them first, and after sleeping with them, he turns them over to his brother without them having a clue!
However, all this experimentation with their lives, personal identities, and even their partners ends up being detrimental to their psychological health. In a true Cronenberg fashion, this film finds itself in the familiar territory of perverted science, twisted psychologies, and mind games.
When one of these girls discovers the secret, everything starts to come apart. To make matters worse, one of the brothers is head over heels in love with her and refuses to share her with the other.
The biological anomaly about this woman is that her uterus has three openings, implying that she is unable to bear children! Beverly and this woman named Claire begin to have a shady relationship.
Beverly is also aware of her drug problems, and the usage of these narcotics exacerbates the crazy that exists within him. One of the specialties of this movie is that the director approaches the exploitative content with the objectivity of a scientist. It is this detached style and creepy content that makes this such a sensational experience.
If you think of Beverly as Dr.Jeckyll, Elliot is Hyde, but at all times, both these personalities have a common awareness! So what is it about Claire that attracts them so much? You have to understand here that much of the narrative is all about the dualities and ambiguity of their personalities. This is precisely the reason behind their attraction as well.
For instance, Claire has her share of dualities as well. She is a big star who is infertile and a failure in terms of her reproductive health. She is dominant but also gets turned on by being submissive in her relationship.
Cronenberg’s obsession with outstanding special effects is nothing new, and the best of his work can be found in The Fly. He employed a method called moving splits in this film to deceive the audience who tries to find the line. It’s not like the typical split screen, where if you look closely, you can see a line between them.
To avoid this line, Cronenberg shifts the camera and the split at the same moment. It was the first time a filmmaker used computer-controlled moving-matte photography, which explains why the Mantle brothers appear to be two distinct individuals.
We found it hard to deal with the descent into madness as the two brothers slowly slipped into insanity. They tried to use pills to move away from their addiction to pills, and their emotional burden was becoming way too much for them to handle.
There comes a time when the brothers briefly switch personalities before our eyes, and it is hard to grasp just how disturbing human psychology can become! This unsettling aurora builds up an unexplained paranoia towards the end of the movie, and the disturbing ending does nothing to make you feel any better!
It just shows the extent of the maddening association between the two brothers, where the absence of one throws the other one off balance completely. The way the film ends clearly shows the end of any hope for the brothers, and you can see that the one alive is no more than dead without his brother!
Some of the possible themes in play
While the film is primarily a character study of the twins, it does contain certain twisted undertones that you must be aware of in order to fully appreciate the picture. One of these theories has to be the constant separation anxiety that both brothers experience.
Their infatuation with sharing women hints at a hidden longing to return to the same womb they previously shared! They both know they will have to endure separation at some point, but the prospect of it is too much for them to bear.
When Beverly’s brother isn’t around, he’s in a lot of trouble, and this causes him to become overly reliant on Claire. He has to resort to drugs that help him numb the pain of separation, but it actually makes his situation worse. His attachment with reality weakens by the day, and the instruments that he has made for him are testimony of his mental state.
Another notable theme in this movie is that of inner beauty. It starts with the fascination that the brothers have regarding the trifurcated cervix and leads on to shape a lot of the conversations.
The way the brothers explore the inner body is almost like they are turned on by the abnormalities. We even have a conversation that makes one of the brothers say out loud that there should be a beauty contest for the inner body as well. In this, people should be judged based on the shape of their liver, or the curving of their uterus, etc.
The poster’s concept of bloodline and identity problem is immediately apparent, with three images merging into one. The director does an excellent job with the imagery, which he consistently emphasizes in various sequences.
Consider a surgical setting in which all of the surgeons are clothed in bizarre red flowing robes. It looks completely weird and like something out of a science fiction horror film. The equipment’ shapes reveal Beverly’s mental state because they resemble torture implements rather than surgical instruments. The eerie lighting in the scene adds to the instrument’s strange nature.
You could also see the way the brothers function as two sides of the same brain. They are the emotional and the logical, the feminine and the masculine side, the easy-going extrovert, and the introverted side.
Even if you observe their names, Beverly and Elliot, they are effectively feminine names. But eventually, it all comes down to one mind in some deep psychological crisis. It becomes seemingly clear as they seek into addiction and madness.
The Acting Performances
Without David Cronenberg’s brilliance, the film would not have been feasible. Jeremy Irons’ outstanding performance in a dual role, which dazzles in both, deserves as much praise as the director.
He demonstrates his abilities as a clever and subtle performer, and it is testament to his remarkable aptitude that he is able to convey the subtle contrasts between the two brothers’ characteristics. It’s crucial for the audience to know who they’re watching onscreen, whether it’s Beverly or Elliot, and Jeremy Irons makes sure you know who’s who in every moment!
He appears to be a wonderful fit for the part, especially when you realise that Cronenberg’s first choice was William Hurt. Even Robert De Niro was considered for the role, but he wasn’t too comfortable playing a gynecologist.
Eventually, it all turned out for the best because Jeremy Irons surely made this role his own with some power-packed performances! Genevieve Bujold, as Claire, is also impressive in her role that juggles between a vulnerable woman hungry for love and affection and a confident lady standing her ground when required.
She clearly dominates her professional space, but somewhere we see her desiring to be dominated in bed! The other members of the cast also stepped in with believable performances that added to the brilliance of the movie.
Our final words on this movie
Dead Ringers is a sobering reminder of how our minds work in a crisis, particularly when it involves separation. It’s a bleak story that ends in tragedy for the two brothers, and if you’re interested in the darker side of human nature, this might be the book for you!
However, you should be aware that you will not be treated to the normal Cronenberg-style of terror and gore. The scars will last a lifetime, and don’t expect a happy conclusion that will make you grin.
Overall, Dead Ringers will be an unforgettable watch for you if you dare to experience something significantly different from the regular and something rather harmful to your mental health.
A Dead Ringer Series In Production
If the movie wasn’t shocking enough, a new TV series based on Dead Ringers is in the works. David Cronenberg is planning a remake of the 1980s cult hit, and Amazon has taken over the project.
Rachel Weisz is set for a new role as the star and executive producer in this TV series, which has an unexpected gender switch. Morgan Creek Entertainment, which produced the original film, is engaged again, as is Annapurna Television. Alice Birch, who is also the lead writer for Hulu’s Normal People series, is involved with the project.
The Mantle twins will be played by Rachel Weisz, and they will be portrayed as the most extraordinary and successful people that you have ever met! Once again, they have the uncanny resemblance, and besides being identical from head to toe, they are on a mission to work on changing the way of women giving birth.
The series will explore a darker and stranger territory as the story will take you through everything from drugs, illegal medical research, sex, and the fatal attractions. It will also dive into themes such as women’s health and the general issues faced by women around the world.
The Mantle twins have a lot in common, from drugs to lovers, but they also have a strong desire to change old methods and bring about a positive shift in women’s healthcare. Rachel Weisz, a major fan of the original film, is thought to have come up with the idea and joined together with Annapurna TV.
Rachel Weisz has had a fantastic run recently, both to her Oscar-nominated performance in The Favorite and her eagerly anticipated appearance in Black Widow. We feel this will be a worthwhile series to watch, and if it can equal the original’s intricacies and brilliance, fans will be delighted.