The keynote address in what has become—rising out of the neurotic bath of 1970s exploitation films—one of world cinema’s most original and discomfiting visions, this 1988 masterwork by David Cronenberg has aged into a kind of subterranean sacredness. Name another film that takes as many risks, runs its astonishing course with such a steady hand, and has as much to say about brotherhood and corporeal transience. Derived from a true story about a pair of gynecologist twins who committed suicide together, but marinated in Cronenberg’s unique physio-anxiety, the film tracks Jeremy Irons as two dislocated doctors with an avant-garde practice whose warped symbiosis becomes infiltrated by a third party (Geneviève Bujold, as a sensible-minded hophead who has the audacity to like one of the identicals and not the other), and who begin spiraling into a crazed dream world of mutation-phobic dementia, pharmaceutical zombiehood, and body panic. To watch Irons not merely inhabit two characters in the same frame but also manifest the dizzyingly complex dynamic between them—their history, dependencies, fears—is to see the thespian equivalent to splitting the atom. Proportions of wit, fear, weakness, hostility, and kindness vary from brother to brother, never quite adding up to 100 percent, while during the film’s shattering, mordant birthday celebration the differences between the twins become lost in a sleepwalking barbiturate swoon. The DVD has interviews, a featurette, a running commentary by Jeremy Irons, and a psychoanalytic quiz.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on June 21, 2005