By the time DEAD RINGERS was released in 1988, David Cronenberg had spent nearly two decades deconstructing genre cinema and reshaping it to his own visionary image.
No director that preceded (or followed) had systematically articulated with the chilling precision, grandeur, and transgression at the level that Cronenberg exhibited. Back-to-back, each cinematic journey destroyed convention and asserted his mantle while simultaneously stripping boundaries of form and consequence.
This ten-step ascension from STEREO to THE FLY depicts the modus operandi of a filmmaker carefully honing his craft in readiness and preparation of something much bigger than anything that had come before. For 19 years all roads led DEAD RINGERS.
Inspired by the real-life events of Stewart and Cyril Marcus, DEAD RINGERS tells the story of the Beverly and Elliot Mantle, identical twin gynecologists specializing in female infertility treatment. The twins’ dynamic is shattered by the insertion of patient Claire Niveau as her relationship with Beverly explodes their equilibrium and results in horrifically tragic consequences.
It’s impossible to reference DEAD RINGERS without acknowledging Jeremy Irons’ astonishing portrayal as both Mantle twins. Throughout the course of the film, he supremely shifts your perspective of Beverly and Elliot as sympathy and disdain co-exist before passing from one to the other in a conclusion that marks Cronenberg at his most devastating.
It’s hard to believe that DEAD RINGERS turns 30 this year. In Cronenberg’s hands it exists in a timeless space refusing to be a product of its (now) dated 80’s counterparts.
But Cronenberg never played by the same rules as anyone else and it’s vividly evident here as he elevated his trademark “body horror” to a new level, one that would manifest firmly over the course of his next wave of films: NAKED LUNCH, M. BUTTERFLY, CRASH, EXISTENZ, SPIDER. Make no bones about it, DEAD RINGERS is a stone-cold masterpiece, however, in the context of Cronenberg’s complete oeuvre it represents more: a remarkable work of art from a Master as he transitions from ‘what was’ to ‘what is.’
Like Brundlefly that immediately preceded, it’s as if Cronenberg stepped out of the teleporter and delivered DEAD RINGERS at an inflection point, a clearly defined moment of metamorphosis that redefined not just himself but the very fabric of cinema.
Director: David Cronenberg