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Best Shot: Dead Ringers, Conjoined in Shadow

Hit Me With Your Best Shot happens each Wednesday night and usually spills on over into Thursday morning. Next week (July 17th) we're all looking at the practically perfect "Mary Poppins." This week: David Cronenberg's masterpiece...

Dead Ringers (1988)

For the uninitiated Dead Ringers (1988) is the 'Saga' of 'The Fabulous Mantle Brothers,' twin gynecologists Beverly (Jeremy Irons) and Elliott (Jeremy Irons again) and the 'destructive force' Claire (Genevieve Bujold) that separates them. I've put the air quotes in the synopsis since that's how Elliott, the more theatrical and dominant twin, and the elder by a few minutes, describes the movies from its insides. I don't want to spoil the movie if you haven't yet seen it but if you haven't (*cough* 25 years later) get on that! If you ask me Jeremy Irons deserved the Oscar he wasn't nominated for for this career topping performance(s). 

My earliest favorite movie was The Parent Trap (1961) which I watched on television countless times as a child. Though I realize it's hardly a unique fascination, twins have always done it for me. There's so much to explore and even more to never understand about the possible psychologies of two distinct people who are, genetically, the same person. Though I've seen David Cronenberg's Dead Ringers about four times now I confess that I usually have trouble differentiating Beverly and Elliott. But not this time. Visually, the clarity of their separateness, even though they're loathe to experience it as such, was riveting. Even the old trick of dividing the same actor on two sides of a clearly divided frame doesn't even feel like a sad necessity but the point.

Cronenberg's direction is so assured that you can pick a corker of a shot in virtually every scene as the Best Shot participants have done. Any number of shots will reveal top notch production design (also robbed of Oscar attention) by turning half the spaces into something out of a medical illustration, with intricate lines, weirdly sterile immobility and sleek curves and flat color. But this time through the shot that resonated most was simpler. And I don't even feel like it's cheating that I've chosen twin shots, one of Elliott and one of Beverly, which I've displayed in reverse chronological order. 

These shots are close in proximity in the narrative and each features one of the Mantle Twins reacting to Claire talking to him about the other Mantle Twin. Elliott (up top) is angry that Claire has entered the picture and attempts to intimidate her and seduce her but she won't be cowed. Nevertheless he's too cool and too controlled to lose his composure. The shadow only augments his sinister handsomeness, like a flattering accomplice in seduction and plotting. But Beverly, more emotional and more fluid, who so yearns for separation that he hides Elliot from Claire until this very scene, is also terrified by it. In this simple but brilliant shot he has been found out. Claire has uttered Elliott's name. This shadow neither conceals nor flatters; it merely wipes out his identity. Who is he without Elliott anyway?

For 12 other takes on this movie, please check out the rich array of articles provided by this week's Best Shot club in the visual index

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Reader Comments (9)

Well... Now I feel the need to re-watch Dead Ringers AND The Parent Trap.

July 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

Mike -- LOL. what a strange double feature that would make. I apologize for inadvertently suggesting it.

July 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNathanielR

only cronenberg can make a film like this be so aesthetically good on every level. when i first watched it, i thought it was so distinct and unnerving. jeremy irons sure had a great run in the late 80s to early 90s. i also agree this is his best work ever

July 11, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterkent

I'm wondering what Cronenberg could do by adapting this with Freaky Friday? Bev and Elliot change places for a day? Oh, never mind, they do that in the movie all the time. But he could add in some car chases and assorted slapstick. Bev on a hang glider?

My favorite scene is Claire's confrontation of the twins. "You soften them up with all that smarmy concern... ..and along comes Dracula here and polishes them off."

I came across this cool Web site that has all the dialogue from the film:

July 11, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

King of Hearts, Anne of the Thousand Days, Obsession, Choose Me, Trouble in Mind, Dead Ringers: I used to adore Geneviève Bujold...

July 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Paul, I love her too. I notice you didn't mention Earthquake, Swashbuckler or Alex and the Gypsy lol.

July 11, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

brookesboy, I was this close to including Tightrope. ;-)

July 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Paul -- CHOOSE ME. god that movie. i was so into it in the 80s.

July 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

Paul, oooooooh, I like Tightrope. She and Clint make a sweet surprising couple. I always wondered what happened to that director Tuggle. A film that offers many fascinating ideas.

July 12, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

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