Home Video Hovel: Dead Ringers, by David Bax
What with all the recent press around Ewan McGregor playing brothers on this season of Fargo, the whole idea of an actor in dual roles feels a bit like a gimmick at the moment. I wonder if it felt the same way back in 1988 when David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers, starring Jeremy Irons as twin gynecologists Beverly and Elliot Mantle came out. It probably did and the movie is not without its own cheekiness about the trick, at one point even pairing Irons up with actual twins (played by Jill Hennessey and her sister, both making their screen debuts). But there’s plenty more going on here beyond the hook. And even if there wasn’t, isn’t a Cronenberg gimmick worth checking out?
Bev and Elliot are at the top of their game. Their practice caters to Toronto’s upper class while their groundbreaking research, published in medical journals, garners them awards and acclaim. They live together, work together and share everything. But when Bev falls in love with a famous actress (Geneviève Bujold), the wedge driven between the brothers leads to drug addiction, psychosis and even darker places.
As a location, Toronto has such a reputation as a stand-in for other places that few directors seem to have bothered to treat the city with respect. Denis Villeneuve did it in Enemy, making towering buildings look like alien fortresses. Here, Cronenberg gives us a look inside those buildings. His interiors always seem to be a bit bigger than they need to be, whether on obvious soundstages, like the Mantles’ apartment, or existing locations like Toront’s Casa Loma castle, the massive conservatory of which he redresses as a restaurant. These spaces become cathedrals and altar upon which the brothers perform their increasingly bizarre gynecological rituals, eventually even donning crimson red scrubs that read as sacramental garments. Underneath it all runs Howard Shore’s deep, ominous score.
The Mantles are, in multiple senses of the term, hosts unto themselves. They are individuals who are not. They share everything. “You haven’t had any experience until I’ve had it too,” one says to the other; it doesn’t really matter who says it to whom. In some ways, perhaps, it’s respectable—even beautiful—how devoted they are to one another. Dead Ringers shows us, however, the other side of that bond. When two people are inseparable and one begins to fall apart, the other must go down with the ship.
Shout! Factory’s 2K scan is available in both 1.78 and Cronenberg’s preferred 1.66 aspect ratios. The color range (on the 1.66, at least) is surprisingly wide, allowing for a delectable contrast between the warm reds and cool blues of the film’s palette.
Special features include a new commentary by Cronenberg scholar William Beard, an old commentary with Irons, and new interviews with actress Heidi von Palleske, actor Stephen Lack, special effects artist Gordon Smith and cinematographer Peter Suschitzky, as well as existing interviews with Irons, Cronenberg, producer Marc Boyman and co-writer Norman Snider and an old behind-the-scenes featurette.