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Horror: Dead Ringers

Updated on October 30, 2019
Maudo Rodriguez profile image

Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Enthusiast and Writer


I hate the doppelganger. The two-actors-playing-one gimmick of TV and film always disappoints. One always can recognize the camera tricks and the weak attempts to make the same actor look different in a split-screen or composite shot. This lame trickery is always identifiable by a line of furniture, or a doorway between the two images of the same person. Additionally, the actor is never good enough to portray his or her nemesis, or twin, or copy, in a believable way that differentiates one from the other.

Jeremy Irons




All of my disdain for the obviousness of this convention applies to EVERY example of the doppelganger I’ve seen in film, except for Jeremy Irons’s portrayal of twin gynecologists in David Cronenberg’s, Dead Ringers.

The film is based on the novel Twins by Bari Wood which was somewhat based on the lives of real-life gynecologists.

“Stewart and Cyril Marcus were identical twin gynecologists who practiced together in New York City. On July 19, 1975 ...(suffered from) barbiturate addiction..


“...found dead at a fashionable Manhattan address in an apartment littered with decaying chicken parts, rotten fruit, and empty pill bottles. The bodies were those of Cyril and Stewart Marcus, doctors who had apparently died, more or less simultaneously, as the result of a suicide pact.” (


Two-third’s of the film focuses on a wayward romance between the brothers, Elliot and Beverly, and a disturbed actress. Elliot is the confident, slick, overbearing one, while Beverly is decidedly more feminine, softer and emotional.

Elliot uses their practice to seduce and initiate relations with women and then, summarily, passes them on to his brother, once he gets bored with them.

Beverly is incompetent in the ways of women and dwells on his sensitive side; wholly inadequate when it comes to his brother.


The dual role is performed flawlessly by Irons and executed artfully by Cronenberg. That feeling of gimmick and any notions of trickery are absent on the screen, as the one actor performs within the frame that the master-director creates. Irons’s use of posture, facial manipulation and a different type of “energy” for each character, creates and maintains the illusion of two distinct individuals throughout the film. Irons, in a commentary, mentions that Beverly’s “energy” is in his throat and Elliot’s is in his forehead. This allows the actor to show Beverly, physically, as a more open, emotional being, while Elliot is more analytical, emotionless and domineering.





Also, very seldom does the director employ the split-screen, but more so, he uses tracking shots and blocking to engage the viewer in the drama of the scene, rather than in the hokum of the gimmick.

Seldom Split-Screen


All of this is very well and good, but where is the horror? The horror of Cronenberg in the film, like many of his others, dwells on the physical and on the body, but more so, on the idea of addiction. It dwells on the pain of separation and on the nature of addiction, where an individual uses a substance or a person, to fill an imagined emotional, or psychological void within themselves.

“I've often thought there should be beauty contests for the insides of bodies.”


Body Horror


A Family That Loves Together

Elliot has never been in love, but feels he finds it with one of his brother’s leftovers, a NY actress who becomes wise to the twins' schemes.

Claire Niveau: I've been around a bit. I've seen some creepy things in the movie business. This is the most disgusting thing that's ever happened to me.


Love Hurts

When she dumps Elliot, he begins a downward spiral that eventually drags his brother down with him.

This actress, Claire Niveau (Geneviève Bujold) becomes the plug to fill Beverly’s void of inadequacy as he falls deeply in love with her. When she leaves, he turns to drugs and sinks into psychosis.

Cronenberg’s Nightmare Fuel


His brother, Elliot, in an attempt to help him, falls victim to the same, and they both live for a time, delusional, medicated and dangerous…until the final separation.

And tomorrow, we'll take some Percodan... just because it's Saturday.


Final Separation


Elliot Mantle: Why are you crying, Bev?
Beverly Mantle: Separation can be a... terrifying thing.

© 2019 Maudo Rodriguez


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