Thoughts from the Ledge: The art of David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers


This month marks the 30th anniversary of one of David Cronenberg’s best and most disturbing movies, Dead Ringers. I thought I would take a look back at one of my favorite horror flicks.

“And tomorrow, we’ll take some Percodan… just because it’s Saturday.” – Elliot Mantle

When Art Imitates Life

Dead Ringers is one David Cronenberg film that I could watch on a loop. It is definitely weird but in a compelling way. Hard to believe that it was 30 years ago when I first saw it. In my mind, it’s one of those masterpieces that stands the test of time.

Well written, beautifully shot and brilliantly acted by Jeremy Irons and Geneviève Bujold, expect to think about this effort long after you view it. The book, “Twins” written by Bari Wood and Jack Geasland, provides the blueprint for the movie and explores the real-life relationship of doctors Stewart and Cyril Marcus.

It’s no secret that I’m an admirer of Irons’ work — I have followed his career for years. His portrayal of twins Elliot and Beverley Mantle is sheer genius. You truly believe that he is two separate characters for he imbues both parts with their own personalities.

Irons definitely doesn’t rely on camera tricks to help his performance either. Interestingly enough, the English actor was not Cronenberg’s first choice for the role. William Hurt was offered the parts but couldn’t accept due to prior commitments.

I will admit that Hurt would have given Irons a run for his money with his portrayals of the twins but the best man prevailed. It was also revealed that Robert De Niro was approached to play the Mantle brothers but was not comfortable with playing a gynecologist.

Margot Kidder was Cronenberg’s choice to play the role of Claire Niveau over Bujold. Although a movie with her and William Hurt would have been intriguing, Geneviève Bujold is perfect as the eccentric actress who is the twins’ Kryptonite.

— Courtesy of Morgan Creek Entertainment

Love Will Tear Us Apart

More from Horror Legends

This is a perfect psychological study of twins and familial bonds. Elliot and Beverley are literally each other’s support systems. They do everything together including opening an OB-GYN practice.

What one brother lacks, the other brother makes up for. Elliot is the dominant sibling who is more extroverted. Beverley is withdrawn and more of a sensitive soul.

The two of them have no clue about how to deal with women as evidenced in a scene when they are young boys and they approach a girl in the neighborhood to ask her if she would have sex with them. Which makes the profession that they have chosen of gynecology a real head scratcher.

So, when actress Claire Niveau enters the picture, it is no surprise that both their worlds are turned upside down. Of course, being the more assertive brother, Elliot has sex with Claire first.

Since they “share” women, Elliot coerces his shy sibling to go after Claire. Not wanting to disappoint his brother, Beverley gets intimate with the actress but ends up falling in love with her. This is the beginning of the end for the two men.

When Bev doesn’t want to tell his brother every little detail this starts to cause a rift between the two. Meanwhile Claire goes on location and Bev becomes convinced that she is cheating on him. Elliot doesn’t help dissuade his fears.

Instead it comes to light that the brothers were running a game on Claire by taking turns with her. Disgusted, she walks away from Bev leaving him heartbroken.

— courtesy of Morgan Creek Entertainment

The Downward Spiral

Miserable, pining away for the love of his life, Bev starts taking drugs. He is on a downward spiral. His descent into madness is beginning. Elliot is trying to maintain their practice but Bev isn’t making it easy for him.

Things are beginning to crumble for Elliot as well. The stress of his business and his sibling’s mental state begins to wear on him. So, he starts taking drugs too.

Everything culminates in a marvelous freak out scene in the operating theater. Bev decides in an “enhanced” state to commission an artist to create new OB-GYN medical tools for “mutant” women. This is a disaster waiting to happen.

When Elliot attempts to use the weird instruments, he begins having crazy Cronenberg gory visions. In the end, the practice is closed down by the medical board.

In the meantime, Elliot has started a relationship with a woman named Cary. She is becoming increasingly alarmed with his drug use. Bev on the other hand is locked in their old clinic by Elliot to detox.

Claire is back and she wants to see Bev. He manages to escape the clinic and goes to her place. However, all he wants at this point is a script for more drugs. When Claire refuses, he leaves her only to find the clinic torn apart and Elliot passed out in the shower.

Both brothers decide to kick their habits together. Which doesn’t go well because Bev decides to “operate” on Elliot to “separate” them. He ends up disemboweling him.

The next day, Bev attempts to speak with Claire but when he calls her she doesn’t recognize him. He hangs up the phone and goes to die with his brother.

Double the Pleasure

There are so many off the wall components to this film coupled with signature Cronenberg “gross out” scenes. For those that like horror and haven’t experienced Dead Ringers, put it on your must-see list now.

Jeremy Irons performances are worth it. The actor was nominated for a Saturn Award and won a Best Actor Award from the New York Film Critics Circle.  No one quite plays tortured and lovesick like Irons. For whatever reason, he is able to tap into those dark areas.

Probably because he is fearless as a performer. Geneviève Bujold is perfect as Claire. She manages to combine vulnerability with just enough self-absorption to make her character compelling enough to be sexual napalm for the brothers but Bev in particular.

For fans of David Cronenberg, this film will not disappoint you. It’s proof that horror can be art and that the director is quite the artist.

Next. 5 horror films from 1960 to 2000 still defying time. dark

Have you seen Dead Ringers? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below. We want to hear from you.