Sunday, May 2, 2010

Dead Ringers

(David Cronenberg, 1988)
As the Canadian film industry starts its move upmarket into Art, Cronenberg has an opportunity to show off his mastery - with groundbreaking technical brilliance, performances of great depth and commitment, and complex thematic resonances that are too personal and eccentric to reduce to allegory. At the same time, he's engaged in an almost unprecedented reversal of the old smuggling routine - percolating the crassest of exploitation values into 'serious' filmmaking. Maniac menaces women: can't get any more basic than that, and slasher films have always taken time out to psychoanalyze their monsters. Needless to say, though, turning the maniac into identical-twin gynecologists ups the ante. It also pulls the model in two directions at once, rendering the psycho even more abstract/unreal even as his acts of violence become unbearably familiar and intimate. Most dangerous of all is Cronenberg's defiantly male perspective on the proceedings; he's concerned with the perps not the victims, and the greatest outrage he commits is to portray the brothers' dissolution as comedy blacker than night. The human chaos behind the veneer of professional status; men diagnosing the ills of the world from a hermetic echo chamber; the way yearning for intimacy across genders can mutate into uncomprehending violence; the expedient and hopeless medicalization of unmet needs - this is heavy stuff, and Cronenberg resolves nothing by holding these things up to the light. As a result, the tightly-controlled horror and comedy are triangulated by an explosive emotional impact, more universal for its eccentric specificity, realer than countless 'realistic' movies on comparable themes. More Burroughsian than "Naked Lunch", and so totally engrossing that eventually you forget to notice the seamless technical tricks that turn Jeremy Irons into two people.

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