Review: Dead Ringers (1988)


I’m happy I don’t have a twin, I’m weird enough by myself I fear for how weird two of me would be!

Written By: David Cronenberg & Norman Snider
Directed By: David Cronenberg

I’ve remained on the outside looking in of the nature versus nurture debate for most of my life. My view is a simple one, the truth resides somewhere in the middle. We are a product of our experiences, our make-up is formed by the people we interact with and how we choose to interact with them. David Cronenberg has always been fascinated by how people choose to define one another and Dead Ringers is yet another entry in his search to find some sort of resolution to the mystery of mankind. I take that back, I don’t believe resolution is Cronenberg’s ultimate aim, he wants to explore because only through exploration can we come to a better understanding and understanding is his ultimate aim.

If, as I said, we are a product of our experiences what happens to us when every experience we have isn’t ours alone? It is true that we share all of our experiences, but after the experience has been shared the reaction is ours and ours alone. What if that wasn’t the case, what if our reaction to the shared experience was shared as well? The greater theme I found in Dead Ringers was of that loss of individuality, if we truly do define ourselves by how shared experiences affect us then how do we define ourselves when we have lost any sense of individuality?

Beverly and Elliot Mantle are not individuals, they are a collective. What one experiences the other is sure to experience as well. It is even worse for Bev, he struggles to find a reason for his existence, his every social interaction is found through his brother. I can’t imagine being in that situation but if you stop and think about it isn’t that what we strive to do with our lives? We spend our time on this planet searching for people that we can share with, for people who have the same experiences as us or who can go on to share experiences at the same time we do. We always define ourselves as individuals yet we spend our time trying to join a partnership. Elliot and Bev represent the worst that can come from that loss of individuality, through them Cronenberg explores the avenue most of us try to go down with our lives. It ends up not quite what we expected or hoped for, but that is possibly the one truth that Cronenberg is always trying to expose, what we end up with in life is often not what we thought it would be.

From the craft perspective Dead Ringers is a superbly made film, with only one moment feeling out of place. The movie adopts a cold and sterile aesthetic, an aesthetic that perfectly suits two men who are removed from humanity. Jeremy Irons is not an actor whose work I am very familiar with but I doubt he will be able to top his dual performance in Dead Ringers. He makes Bev and Elliot distinctly different yet the same and he never misses a beat when inhabiting one twin or the other. Geneviève Bujold is startlingly frank as Claire, at times I was more interested in her character arc than I was either of the brothers. Like usual Cronenberg takes all of these artistic elements and adds his distinct vision to create a densely layered movie that stimulates intellectually while drawing you in on the base level with its surface story.

For the first time ever I do feel the need to take Cronenberg to task for a viscerally gory scene. It’s not the finale, that felt justified to me, but it is the conjoined dream sequence. I have a better understanding of the meaning behind that scene after reading a different take on the film than my own from my friend Edgar at Between The Seats. Still, even with a better understanding of the destructive force Claire is supposed to represent in the relationship of Bev and Elliot I don’t feel that the gore found in the dream sequence is justified. I’m sure it isn’t a problem for most people, there is an interpretation that justifies it after all, but it didn’t sit well with me and took me out of the picture in that one moment and one moment alone.

Dead Ringers represents another great David Cronenberg film, albeit not one that is on the same level as his best works. Dead Ringers is provocative and further deals with Cronenberg’s long running theme of human definition. It features a great lead performance, and, uh, hold on a second. Look, it’s a Cronenberg film, I can’t give you a tidy last paragraph summing up why you should or shouldn’t see it. Like any Cronenberg film Dead Ringers is an experience, one that isn’t for everyone but an experience that may be for you if you give it a chance.




6 responses to “Review: Dead Ringers (1988)

  1. Well, well. A gory Cronenberg scene that wasn’t justified in the eyes of the great Bill T? I’m taken aback.

    I think you hit on something that I completely overlooked in my own review: the notion that the Mantle twins are all about how each of us not only define ourselves as indivuduals 9as should be the case), but also through our collective experiences. Very insightful.

    I can’t tell you how much I enjoy these films of his and reading all the different takes on them, be them positive or negative.

  2. Great, great, I have no idea what you are talking about, I am clearly magnificent, not great. ūüôā

    I hear ya on that last part, that’s one of the main reasons I love Cronenberg as a director, his films can be read so many different ways and always engender a lot of discussion.

  3. Great review, man. I’m a big fan of this movie and Cronenberg generally. And yeah, Jeremy Irons was awesome. I feel like this one gets overlooked in light of its subject matter and also in comparison to some of Cronenberg’s bigger hits, but like you said, a really thought-provoking movie that really challenges its audience.

  4. Thanks, and what I found online at least was that it’s the subject matter that turns most people off. I read a number of reviews that said, “well made, but who wants to watch a movie about these people and their problems?”

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