'A disturbing story of twin brothers who run a fertility clinic together and whose extraordinarily close relationship contains the seeds of their downfall' From the BBC iPlayer summary
Just two-years after The Fly (1986), David Cronenberg so generously gave us Dead Ringers in 1988. It demonstrated a new level of maturity from the Canadian director and moved slightly away from the fleshy, sci-fi, body horror that his audiences were used to. Based on a book entitled Twins by Jack Geasland and Bari Wood, the film also draws from Greek tragedy and weaves a masterful plot with no lack of turgidity and little capacity for the irrational. The film also turned heads with its use of one actor for two roles; even showing them on-screen together and having conversations in some scenes. The dual role of the Mantle twins was offered to both Robert De Niro and John Hurt before it was eventually awarded to Jeremy Irons. Irons, however, puts in an astounding performance and, though it was not celebrated with an Oscar this time, Irons was thankful of Cronenberg 3-years later when he won best actor for Reversal of Fortune in 1991. It's believed that he was able to convey a sense of two different characters through the 'Alexander technique', which helps an actor control his energy levels.
The film is based on a true story and this story appears to be one of dependency. Elliot and Beverly are identical twins who grow up to become a renowned female gynaecologist duo. When Beverly becomes involved with a female whom he decides to keep to himself, rather than share with his brother as is the norm, the two brothers begin to lose their synchronization and succumb to drug addiction. Elliot and Beverly's dependency of one another is initially represented through this drug use; Elliot declaring that 'whatever goes into Beverly's blood stream, goes into mine' just before throwing a pill into his mouth. Their dependency of one another is what proves most dangerous however and this leads to destruction and, as mentioned, tragedy.
So delicately does Cronenberg tread on the 2000-year-old crumbly tradition of Greek tragedy, that his attention to detail allows no loose ends. Therefore, the downfall of our twins comes from within, and with great appreciation for cause and effect. Like in the tragedies of Sophocles or Aeschylus, an event takes place based around confusion or human error (given the Greek name hamartia); this acts as the catalyst for the ensuing tragic event. In a moment of confusion for Beverly, he mistakes Claire's relationship with her secretary for an affair and falls into a pit of despair, isolation and drug abuse. By the time Claire reassures Beverly, his twin-brother is well into the depths of his own addiction.
The final scene of the film is extremely powerful; culminating and thunderously tragic in every sense. Complimentary to the pacing and atmosphere of the first three quarters of the film, the last 15-minutes exude symbolism and show Jeremy Irons at the best I have seen him, or possible any one in such a role.
This film will remain with you for days. It will make you think, definitely laugh and possibly cry. It is not a typical Cronenberg horror film but perhaps finds a more suitable resting place among stories like those of Sophocles' Medea. I would hate to give away the ending as much as I would like to entice you to watch the film but I'll remind you that Medea, in a fit of jealousy and revenge against her unfaithful husband, murders her own children.
Watch it on iPlayer now. Alternatively, order it on Amazon for £3.