Strangely enough, Dead Ringers may be the single most incomprehensible (or least comprehensible) film I’ve seen from David Cronenberg. I really love his films for the fusion of the physical and psychological that emerges within the conflicts of his protagonists, particularly in the realm of his distinct body horror. Dead Ringers is no exception.
I think what makes the meaning of this film particularly muddled, however, is the fact that the conflicted protagonists are a pair of gynecologists who are, in fact, identical twins. Exceptionally portrayed by Jeremy Irons in a dual role, Elliot and Beverly are two parts of a whole, each one offering himself as an equal and opposite version of the other. As each have their own distinct personalities – Elliot is an extrovert, Beverly an introvert – each become dependent on one another to move forward in their medical occupation. Since no one could tell them apart on a surface level, each lacks a true individual identity, except for what emerges when the two of them are together. The differences between the individuals are certainly apparent, yet so very subtle (Irons is able to manipulate between the two bodies slightly, but is totally effective in the meantime). One could say the two are still trapped in the womb, perpetually attached by the same chord.
Inevitably, a presence emerges to threaten the reliability of such an attachment. Once patient Claire (Geneviève Bujold) comes along, Beverly is aroused by the invitation to become fused onto an entirely separate entity. The resulting effects are devastating, as the two constantly work to achieve a steady equilibrium that is never satisfactory. The tensity of atmosphere arises from the start of the film, and never lets go; in fact, it grows to almost unbearable heights before the film reaches a close. This is saddled with the eventual emergence of disturbing hallucinations, addiction, and deep delusion.
Dead Ringers is probably the single bleakest film from Cronenberg that I’ve seen and actually enjoyed. The tale is tragic, depressing, definitely so absurd. At the same time, however, it’s a completely fascinating tale. The conversion of the ‘multiple personalities’ phenomenon (one personality between two people, instead of the reverse situation) is somehow displayed with such a humane, emotional grip on, not only the story, but the players within the narrative. It contains a bit of the grim imagery and aura known to permeate Cronenberg’s films, without a mere sense of overbearing sentimentality, or lack thereof. I may need a second viewing to completely swallow this pill, but it’s an experience I’d certainly be willing to make twice. This particular brand of eerieness could only come from Cronenberg himself, and for that I am so grateful.