HMWYBS: Dead Ringers

Hit Me With Your Best Shot is back at The Film Experience! I leave this week’s review in the very capable hands of my friend/editor Margaret. Regularly-planned Sherlock reviews will resume on Saturday!

Hi there, Recyclers. Margaret here, pinch-hitting for Anne Marie on this week’s installment of HMWYBS. (You may remember me from me from my designation as “Official Blog Consultant“. WRM’s esteemed curator suggested that I’d be a good fit to fill in on Dead Ringers while she plays catch-up at work (exact words: “Since you love Jeremy Irons so &@#! much”).

This actually dovetails quite nicely with our theme this week. When one writer is unavailable, another fills in, but those paying attention can always tell the difference. *Sinister Smile*

That was an Edward Gorey-esque credit sequence, wasn't it? But with less whimsy and more gynelogical tools.

That was an Edward Gorey-esque credit sequence, wasn’t it? But with less whimsy and more gynelogical tools.

 In this 1988 feature from David Cronenberg, successful twin gynecologists Beverly and Elliot Mantle slowly lose their minds, with gruesome results, after a shared romantic entanglement and a lot of drugs. Dead Ringers heavily features the auteur’s now-signature theme of twisted sexuality. Jeremy Irons does double duty as the brothers, with a pair of chillingly effective performances made all the more convincing by Cronenberg’s savvy camerawork.

I resisted the urge to choose the opening shot, but it bears mentioning for it’s supreme off-puttingness and thematic relevance. The movie opens on a conversation between the Mantle twins as children. Their discussion of the nature of sex is almost clinically detached and matter-of-fact. They move in unison, speak in perfectly matched cadence, and are dressed in identical outfits. While the film later takes care to make a very clear distinction between the personalities and behavior of Beverly and Elliott, in this opening scene it’s not made especially clear which is which– nor does it matter.

dead-ringers6 deadringers4

 The shot ends by panning around behind the two boys, reversing their positions to the viewer and effectively sealing the impression of their interchangeability.
The one-two punch of the serenely creepy credits and this opening scene perfectly sets the movie’s uncanny tone. It becomes even more important later in the film, which leads to my choice for best shot:

Best Shot

Having been so struck by that first shot of the Mantle twins, this bookend to it really slays. They’ve completed their mutual descent into madness, neither able to prop up the other any longer. Again they’re dressed alike and walking in unison, this time making a staggering march across their squalid apartment in underwear and socks, once again interchangeable. You can’t tell which is which, and it doesn’t matter. These are men, after all, who have shared educations, achievements, bylines, apartments, and lovers for their entire lives. They’re two pieces of one whole, two brains in one soul. This shot, the death march of the Mantle twins, completes the cycle.

The late, great Roger Ebert called Dead Ringers “the kind of movie where you ask people how they liked it, and they say, ‘Well, it was well made,’ and then they wince.” I’d say that the movie’s biggest success is as a showcase for its star. There’s a reason he thanked Cronenberg in his Oscar speech three years later. Jeremy Irons has a singular quality as an actor: he’s so miraculously good at playing mesmerizing and nuanced creeps– and so much better at it than almost anyone else– that those roles have virtually dominated his filmography despite his range. (Remember when he used to play the romantic lead?) There’s nobody else quite like him–even at his worst he’s still eminently watchable– and for that I’ll follow him to almost any movie. Even one with a synopsis that includes both “disturbing” and “gynelogical tools.”

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About Margaret

Margaret throws a great Oscar party. You can try to score an invite over at @says_margaret
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1 Response to HMWYBS: Dead Ringers

  1. Pingback: Hit Me With Your Best Shot 2014: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind | We Recycle Movies

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