Jeremy Irons gives a career-best performance as the Mantle twins, Elliot and Beverly, in this profoundly unsettling film from director David Cronenberg (Crash, eXistenZ). The Mantles are radical gynecologists who split the work: extroverted Elliot takes care of public relations while introverted Beverly does the actual research, sees most of the patients, and designs imaginative instruments to better suit their needs. Given the complimentary personalities of both brothers, their relationship is ideal, and they are obviously very close. Then actress Claire Niveau (Genevieve Bujold) comes in for an examination.
Claire is having trouble conceiving, despite being promiscuous. Beverly examines her and finds that she is a trifurcate; her uterus has three cervical entrances. He leaves the room and Elliot comes in to see. Charming to the last, Elliot quickly seduces her, spends the night with her, then passes her off to Bev (a common occurrence, we soon discover) who, unexpectedly, falls in love with her and spirals into a dependent, jealous relationship, making the twins' differences more obvious. This culminates in the ruin of their careers and, eventually, the end of their lives. Unfortunately, all of this takes too long. Once the inevitable events are set in motion, the film drags tediously to its conclusion, and could easily have been thirty minutes shorter.
This was a turning point in Cronenberg's career, departing from his more typical graphic genre efforts (Scanners, Videodrome), going through a period of more mainstream acceptance (The Fly, The Dead Zone) into more character-based storytelling, but remaining firmly entrenched in biological themes. Dead Ringers is more interested in the relationships between Elliot, Beverly, and Claire than in her physical "mutation" and the brothers' identical appearances but, these are integral components of the story.
The film is an adaptation of the novel Twins by Bari
Wood and Jack Geasland (the film's title was changed to avoid confusion with
the Schwarzenegger-DeVito comedy released the same year). The novel was based
on the real-life twins Steven and Cyril Marcus, who were found dead in their
Manhattan apartment in the 1970's. Cronenberg has simply taken the skeletal
story of the twins' lives to make a commentary on the dual lives of physicians,
and how the uneasy co-existence of the two personalities necessary for a successful
career, if not balanced properly, can lead to drastic consequences - told
within the famously unsubtle horror-film framework, of course, complete with
exploitative horror-film title.