Proper review at last!
Jeremy Irons plays both Eliot and Beverly Mantle, two gynecologists who are identical twins. They are a curious, disturbing mixture of scientific and sexual inquisitors, ever since their childhood. Their research and development of gynecological instruments earns them fame and recognition since their college years, and the story begins to unfold once they are an established team. Beverly, the shy, insecure one, is the main practicing doctor and also does most of the research, while Eliot takes care of "public relations", writing acceptance speeches, etc.
Eliot is the charming, assertive twin. He and Beverly have a rather unhealthy relationship, as if they couldn't really see the difference between one another (for as obvious as we find it). When Eliot sleeps with a woman, he will "pass it over" to Beverly so that he can do it too; after all, she won't be able to tell the difference. This is the dynamic in their lives. Eliot is perfectly content with it, although Beverly's uneasiness is obvious from the first moment. Everything changes when a mini-series actress, the tortured Claire Niveau (an aggresively sexual, quintessential Cronenberg woman), turns to the Mantle brother for an examination. Beverly discovers a rare defect in her uterus, which entices a disturbing fascination. The brothers "pass her around" as usual, but Beverly gets more hooked than Eliot is prepared to accept.
Claire acts as a catalyst for the individualization of the twins. Beverly is in love with her, while Eliot isn't, and he doesn't want to share or give her up. He unconsciously becomes aware of the unhealthy co-dependence between he and his brother, and how menacing it can be for his future life, which pushes him into a whirlpool of obssession, paranoia, and drug abuse. Eliot tries uselessly to save him, in an attempt to save himself. But soon, without explanation, it seems as though he experiences his brother's pain as his own.
Dead Ringers is one of the saddest, darkest films I've seen. It's just how everything happens. It isn't forced. It doesn't rely on supernatural elements or killers, but the terrifying distortions of the characters' minds and bodies: something much more internal, inaccessible, harder to understand or fix. Watching it is like watching a car crash or staring into a dark pit. It has the stamp of David Cronenberg all over it, from the use of strong, bright primary colors to the Howard Shore score, the disgusting body abnormalities and makeup, the eerie credibility of the blood, and, most importantly, the thorough characterization. The Mantle twins and Claire are strange people, caught up in their pyschosexual and drug conflicts, but never become caricatures. Their pain is tangible and believable.
Dead Ringers' success or failure rested aboslutely on the shoulders of the actor playing the twins, and Jeremy Irons is as good as it gets. He takes on these complex, emotionally draining, tortured roles with transparence and exhausting intensity. I personally felt so exhausted watching Beverly spiral further and further downwards in self-destruction. Still, his performance is subtle enough not to to differentiate the twins obviously: he understood their similarities (which are the basis of their unhealthy relationship) and didn't compromise them for the sake of making the film easier to follow. He interacted perfectly with "himself", there is never a single defect in his stare or gestures. Also, it is possible to tell the twin aparts successfully after some observation,and this only further proves his expertise.
Anxious and uncomfortable pretty much define this film: Beverly and Eliot's anxiety of separation, which ultimately brings on their demise, the anxiety that begins to de-humanize them, or rather to alter them in such a way that they lose any notion of civility or tact. As a woman I was horrified not only by their instruments to work on "mutant women", but by the brutality with which they treated their patients after their crisis.
Dead Ringers is one of the most fascinating films that I can rank as my favorites. It's unapologetically bizarre but still vaguely plausible. Cronenberg proves that defects in such notions as sexuality and identity can be a thousand times more terrifying than a house full of ghosts. He takes on fear of the intangible in a stylish manner, supported by the brilliance of Jeremy Iron's work.