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Friday, September 19, 2014

Recommended!: Dead Ringers (1988)

Pleased to honor actor Jeremy Irons on this, his 65th birthday! Though he's one of a few actors that we find to be possessed of much technique but little apparent soul, we keep finding things that disprove this. And every time we revisit David Cronenberg's Dead Ringers we find ourselves in awe of Irons' accomplishments in it.

Per Cronenberg's usual modus, Dead Ringers is intense and bizarre. Irons plays Elliot and Beverly Mantle, twin gynecologists who share a practice, share a home, and share lovers. When the normally passive Beverly takes the initiative in pursuing a relationship with a filmmaker patient (Genevieve Bujold), the normally smooth Elliot is thrown into a tailspin, initiating a chaotic breakdown that the brothers may not survive.

Irons appears onscreen with himself by way of a then-innovative doubling technology, and it's remarkable how distinct he makes each brother. We can even see when one brother is impersonating another. But Irons' performances are not just sums of technical details; the intensity of the Mantles' breakdown reaches tragic, even operatic, heights. The conclusion of the film is possibly the most disturbing in Cronenberg's work (which is saying something), but thanks to the investment we've made in the characters it's also among his most heartbreaking.

Irons regarded his work on Dead Ringers as something of a career-best, having thanked David Cronenberg while accepting his acting Oscar for Reversal of Fortune three years later. (The admiration was clearly mutual; Cronenberg cast Irons in the lead of his M. Butterfly, making Irons the first actor to play the lead in two different Cronenberg films.) It's a great movie to watch for those looking to celebrate the best work of this fine actor, but it ain't for the faint of heart. You've been warned.


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