Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Dead Ringers: Separation Can Be A Terrifying Thing.

Funny isn't it that I should watch both Sisters and Dead Ringers within a few days of each other? I'll have you know that my sudden desire to watch Sisters was random and due to boredom, but my reason for watching Dead Ringers is simple; I've been feeding my boss's cat for the past week or so.... AND... wait for it... have had time to actually read something because I have to take the train and so I've dived headfirst into Cronenberg on Cronenberg. You may remember when I reviewed Videodrome not too long ago and shouted out my question to the world of just when we would be getting a movie about what goes on inside Cronenberg's head by Cronenberg. Well, my buddy Chris of All Things Horror, heard my cries and gave me the next best thing which is... a book about Cronenberg and his movies, written by Cronenberg. It is quite a good read, and I became very interested in all the talk about Dead Ringers. Yes you've guessed it---I just love gynecology.

But honestly I've been quite smitten with Cronenberg movies as of late and while I still can't say that I completely understand them (and who can?) this book has certainly proved one thing; Cronenberg is a very normal guy. He's not sexually perverted or misogynistic---he is simply taking ideas and really getting inside them. He if you will--is how Elliot Mantle delves into the concept of "Inner Beauty". Just because we don't see the inside of a vagina er.....thematic concept doesn't mean it isn't also beautiful. Right?

So Dead Ringers? Not what I expected which means nothing in terms of criticism. I expected it to be tantalizingly gory and highly sexual in both subliminal and overt ways. And in some ways it was all of those things--but not in the way that you would expect. I thought for a brief moment after I had finished watching it that Dead Ringers was a divergence from Cronenberg's past work. Then, after a few minutes of reflection I realize that it wasn't at all. I still felt the same strange ickiness and profoundness, I just felt it in different ways. Dead Ringers is still every bit as disturbing as The Brood or even The Fly--we just get there in a different way.

Based on the real life case of the Marcus twins and on the novel Twins by Bari Wood, Dead Ringers follows the strange lives of twin gynaecologist's Elliot and Beverly Mantle. Brothers psychologically joined in a bizarre way where what effects one ultimately effects the other and the consequences are sometimes startling. The two share women, and the women do not realize it--that is until one, Claire Niveau finds out and Beverly begins a downward spiral from the moment she splashes her drink in his face. What ensues is a strange development where little by little the brother's psyche begins to diminish and we begin to realize how truly connected they really are.

As usual, summaries of Cronenberg's movies are useless so I implore you to ignore it. What I loved most about the film however was its complexity. After my initial viewing, my thoughts were all molded into one and I couldn't help but think how useful it would be if Elliot and Beverly wore name tags. I instantly decided that I must watch the film over again and that is where I began to love it. Elliot and Beverly are separate entities with separate personalities. Claire herself points this out as she quickly realizes that Beverly is the nice one and Elliot is the asshole. It should be easy then to pick them apart but in truth it isn't---and that's where the real key lies. Although different, Elliot and Beverly are connected by a similar desire for knowledge and experience. They are yin and yang--not opposites, but compliments and without each other they are useless. When Elliot says "you have not slept with Claire Niveau until I've slept with Claire Niveau" it's a startling realization. What happens to one must happen to the other or--it has not truly happened.

Therefore, although not literally, Elliot and Beverly are--Siamese twins. Think of the dream sequence where they are bound by that grotesque sac of ickiness.
Even the whole idea of both sleeping with the same woman, eerily echoes the concept of Siamese twins being able to withhold sexual lives whilst still being connected. I read in the Cronenberg book that the lives of the Mantle twins are meant to be a sort of display. The woman whom Claire meets says "everyone" knows about the Mantle twins as if they are some legend of circus folklore---just like Siamese twins in freak shows. The colors in their apartment are tinged with blues and purples,
meant to echo the atmosphere in a fish tank (which also echoes the beginning conversation about fish sex).
The Mantle brothers are at home in their tank on display for the world to look in on.

When Beverly begins his downward spiral into madness, it is only a matter of time before Elliot starts to go as well. He feels that he also needs to start popping pills in order to keep synced with Elliot. That is his madness. It may not be as apparent and focused as Beverly's but it's there and it's quite a disturbing concept. Of course one cannot ignore the outrageous lengths to which Beverly de-compensates. Those gynecological instruments for examining mutant women are some of the craziest things I've ever seen in my entire life. How horrifying the normal gynecological instruments in and of itself are and then to see THESE?

Holy cow. The scene in the operating room is absolutely terrifying as is Beverly's desperation for any kind of drug that he leaps across the patient to put the mask on his own face. I would also like to point out how creepy those red surgical suits are.

They seem so surreal and even like something the Emperor's men would wear. I think I did actually spot them wearing something of the sort at one time or another...Oh yes here is...his Royal Guard.

...SPOILERS abound

The fact is at the film's depressing end, we find that their death--foreshadowed in the story of the Siamese twins--is expected. With Beverly continuing in his ways it was only a matter of time before the true "separation" would happen. Just what can it mean that Beverly uses his mutant gynecological tools to separate Elliot? Are the Mantle twins in essence a mutant? How much creepier can it get than Beverly stumbling around and calling for his brother, blind to the dead body on the operating chair with its insides on the outsides? And that final shot of the two brothers,
Beverly presumably also dead and splayed across Elliot---how much more perfect can it get? A separation of Siamese twins is risky. The death of one twin is equally risky as most cases find that the other cannot last very long without their counterpart. Beverly and Elliot on the surface are different but when it comes down to it---exactly the same. Could this even be why Cronenberg chose to use the same actor for both brothers? Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

Alright well I suppose this was less of a review and more of a spill my guts session. Tut tut what can I do? My review is this; I love this movie. And it's fabulous. Bam. Done.

Dead Ringers of course may not be everyones cup of tea but I maintain that it was one of the most thought provoking experiences that I've had in a while. I recommend a second viewing for anyone who feels different and hopefully you'll walk away with an odd sense of mystery and enchantment. Plus who doesn't love....TWINS??????????????

Yeah, that's what I thought.


Franco Macabro said...

Cronenberg's movies are almost always thought provoking, and this one was no exception. I was kind of upset that I had not watched this excellent Cronenberg movie sooner, sadly, I am not alone in overlooking this fine picture. I personally loved it, like you said, it was thought provoking.

Cronenberg's films are always ripe with symbolisms and meanings, and they always got some sort of body horror in them. And as is the case with this one, they are always deeply psychological, and I love that about them. Great review! Funny too.

Chris H said...

Absolutely astounding piece here, Andre! You really got to the heart and guts of this film. I'm glad you enjoyed the Cronenberg book. Getting it straight from him really gives you a useful perspective on the work.

Oh how I love the Star Wars reference. Can I get a Twins list?!? Why, yes! Genius!

deadlydolls said...

Nice work. And goodness I love this movie.

Also, it makes going to the gyno a little easier. You just always think to yourself "Well, this won't be pleasant, but at least the doctor isn't wearing red!"

Andre Dumas said...

Hahah yes and at least he's not using tools for mutant women!!!

Andre Dumas said...

Well I should say she actually. Men gynecologists give me the willies!

deadlydolls said...

I actually go to a male dr. now (mostly because there was about a 3 month+ wait for the female) and I feel oddly comfortable. He has that friendly neighbor feel that works. When I was 18 on the other hand and I had to go see a breast specialist for a possible tumor, that was a strange thing.

Anonymous said...

Have you seen that Tales from the Crypt ep. My Brother's Keeper?

There is a more horror aspect to it, it is along the same lines. About separation being terrifying thing. One of my favorite episodes.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Andre, your snobbery is even worse than Stacie Ponders, i still love this site though and your reveiws are superb but i`ll always curse the fact that i was born into "THE TIME OF SEXUAL REPRESSION".

Will Errickson said...

Great review! Yes, this is one of my fave Cronenberg films and one of the finest movies of the 1980s. Critics thought Irons should've been nominated for the role but he wasn't, as Cronenberg was, at that time, still seen as a schlockmeister. When Irons won the Best Actor Oscar the following year for REVERSAL OF FORTUNE, he distinctly thanked David Cronenberg.