Jan 142024

Dead Ringers (1988), directed by David Cronenberg, starring Jeremy Irons and Genevieve Bujold.

The film is based on a true story of a pair of identical twin gynecologists who died in a murder-suicide. Irons plays both Doctors Beverly and Elliot Mantle, and Bujold plays actress Claire Niveau, who catalyzes their disintegration.

In the story, Beverly does most of the work that makes them wealthy and famous in their field, while Elliot does the glad-handing and schmoozing. Beverly is fascinated by the “trifurcated uterus” of Claire, a troubled actress searching for a cure for her infertility. As they have done before, the confident Elliot seduces Claire and then passes her on to the shy Beverly, who claims to be Elliot. However, Beverly develops deeper feelings for Claire, and that reveals a hairline fracture in the partnership of the Mantle twins.

Much like her earlier role of Beryl in Tightrope (1984) (previously discussed), Bujold plays Claire as a mixture of tough and vulnerable, assertive and masochistic. Elliot has dinner with Claire and her agent, where she overcomes the latter’s objections about a role.

Leo the Agent: You don’t need to be humiliated.

Claire: I’ve decided. I want to be humiliated.

Elliot and Claire talk about her trifurcated cervix and her intermittent periods. Discomfited, the agent gets up to leave.

Claire: Goodbye, Leo. Remember, I need the humiliation as well as the money.

Elliot and Claire have sex, and Elliot sends Beverly (in his place) to talk with her the next morning. She greets him at the door in an open black robe. Even at this point, Claire realizes something is off about the way Beverly kisses her.

When Beverly breaks it to Claire that she will never get pregnant, she is upset. She’s been taking hormone injections and has been “extremely promiscuous”. Claire acknowledges that what she’s doing is not exactly healthy, and sarcastically agrees with Beverly’s analysis. She quickly turns on him for when he (actually Elliot) slept with her.

Claire: [in his face] Do you only have affairs with your own patients?

Beverly: No, I was… concerned…

Claire: Am I bad? Is that it? You gonna spank me, doc?

Beverly: It hadn’t occurred to me.

Claire: I’ve been bad and I need to be punished. I need to be punished.

She covers her vulnerability with sexual aggression. Beverly is taken aback.

Later, Elliot laughs this off when Beverly tells him about the encounter.

Elliot: All she wanted was a little slap on the ass, Bev.

Beverly tries to argue out of him seeing Claire again, while Elliot urges him on.

Beverly: It’s not safe.

Elliot: Well, if you don’t go and see her…

Beverly: What?

Elliot: I will. And I’ll tell her I’m you and I’ll do terrible things to her.

Beverly: What sort of terrible things?

Immediate cut to Claire’s bedroom. She is tied to her bedframe with surgical tubing and hemostats, while fucking Beverly. The moment is both passionate and tender. When he releases her, she sobs.

Beverly: What’s the matter? What’s the matter?

Claire: I’ll never get pregnant. I’ll never have children. When I’m dead, I’ll just be dead. I’ll really never have been a woman at all. Just a girl. A little girl.

Beverly: You could always adopt a baby.

Claire: It wouldn’t be the same. It wouldn’t be part of my body.

Beverly: Yes, that’s true.

Claire: Don’t tell. Please don’t tell anybody about me. Please don’t tell. I’m so vulnerable. I’m slashed open.

Beverly: Who would I tell? Eh? Who would I tell?

When Elliot demands to know about Beverly’s experience with Claire, Beverly keeps it to himself.

This is the beginning of Claire and Beverly’s relationship. She soon realizes that the man she has been seeing is actually two, and breaks it off, but later resumes her relationship with Beverly.

Despite her acknowledged out-of-control behavior (including prescription drug abuse) and sexual masochism, Claire has a solid sense of her own boundaries, unlike the Mantles. She refuses to let other people tell her what to do, professionally and personally, and won’t sacrifice her career for Beverly.

Much like Nicki Brand in Cronenberg’s Videodrome (previously discussed), Claire is an assertive masochist. Her bondage scene with Beverly is a moment of vulnerability and intimacy for both of them.

Beverly surpasses his avoidance of intimacy with women and keeps Claire’s secret out of feelings for her. This is also the beginning of the rift that sends Beverly into drug abuse and paranoid delusions about “mutant women” with abnormal genitalia. Elliot believes he has to “synchronize” with Beverly to pull him out of it, but they both fall down that hole.

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