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DEAD RINGERS

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Jeremy Irons, Genevieve Bujold
Director:  David Cronenberg
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Warner Bros.
Features:  See Review
Length:  115 Minutes
Release Date:  June 7, 2005

"Separation can be a terrifying thing..."

Film ****

Dead Ringers is not a film for every taste. Some critics and filmgoers have hurled adjectives at it like "morbid", "horrid", and "distasteful". I can understand their point of view. There are some things in this film, as with just about every David Cronenberg film, that are there to make you squirm.

But those things are to heighten the effect in this movie, unlike, say, The Fly--they are not the POINT of the film. This movie is a strange look into an equally strange phenomenon that is actually beyond the imagination of most of us--being an identical twin. Identical twins, unlike fraternal twins, come from the same fertilized egg, that somehow splits during mitosis and creates two people with the exact same genetic makeup. Many stories have explored this unusual but natural occurrence, and touched on the dramatic possibilities of two separate individuals who's hearts, and minds, and nervous systems start out as one. The Corsican Brothers is a good example.

In the movie world, the subject has never really been explored to full capability until this film. Prior to it, twins were used mostly for comical situations, or for the one good, one evil twist. And of course, the fact is, nobody can possibly know what it's like to be a twin except for a twin, and it's doubtful they could ever explain it to us non-twins in a way we fully understand.

Jeremy Irons, in his greatest performance, becomes Elliot and Beverly Mantel, twin gynecologists with a successful practice. Both are brilliant, but a little different from each other emotionally. Elliot is suave and confident, Beverly is more sensitive and introverted.

Turns out, the twins have a penchant for sharing everything, including women. But when a pill popping actress enters their lives and soon discovers their little game, it slowly begins the unraveling of Bev, and soon, Elliot. He explains early on, "You've never had any experience until I've had it, too." It's clear that if one is going down the road to ruin and madness, the other is destined, or obligated, to follow.

The brothers' downfall, and eventual withdrawal into a world populated by only them, is not pleasant to watch, yet impossible to look away from. It rings out with a surreal sadness that lingers with you long after the movie is over, and you walk away realizing you've seen something bizarre, but affecting nonetheless.

I've been a big fan of David Cronenberg for many years now...I always find his work unsettling, thought provoking, and unforgettable.  To me, Dead Ringers is his unqualified masterpiece.  

Video ***1/2

This film has been on DVD before via different studios, but Warner is the one that got it most right.  This anamorphic transfer is bright, with good coloring and detail throughout.  Skin tones look more natural than I had previously scene.  There are slight bits of noticeable grain here and there on the print, but overall, for a film from the 80s, the look is impressive.

Audio ***

The 5.1 soundtrack is quite good, with solid clarity in the dialogue and music and no noise.  Surround channels add a bit of ambience which works nicely in the creepier scenes, and the subwoofer gives a little extra kick to the music score.

Features ***1/2

The extras on this disc are a little different from the previous out of print Criterion one...the trailer and production featurette are the same, but all else is new, starting with a terrific new solo commentary track by Jeremy Irons.  He offers calm, warm thoughts about the making of the film, the twinning effects, and how he approached bringing two identical yet different personalities to life.

There are also four interviews clips with Irons, Cronenberg, co-writer Norman Snider and co-producer Boyman, cast and crew info, and a very amusing psychological profile.

Summary:

If you haven't seen Dead Ringers, you might want to rent it first, because it's not for everyone. But if you like it, as I do, you'll enjoy adding this Warner release to your library.  It's an apex for both David Cronenberg and Jeremy Irons, and thought it may disturb you, it definitely won't ever leave you.

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