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DIRECTED BY: Sean Durkin, Karena Evans, Karyn Kusama,
PLOT: The Mantle Twins, Beverly and Elliot, open a new “bespoke” birthing center in Manhattan, while Beverly pursues a new relationship and Elliot copes with her jealousy through self-destructive behavior.
COMMENTS: Amazon Prime’s six-episode adaptation of David Cronenberg‘s Dead Ringers features twin gynecologists, a powerhouse central performance, an affair with an actress named Genevieve, an atmosphere of dread, and nothing else in common with the original. Plotwise, it’s about as far away from Cronenberg’s story as the 1988 film was from the real-life story of the Marcus twins.
This difference, of course, is not only welcome but necessary. We wouldn’t care to watch a new “Dead Ringers” that had no other purpose but to take advantage of modern split screen technology or reflect contemporary mores. Adaptations need to bring their own narrative and thematic spins to justify their existence. The miniseries’ gender-swap of the twins from men into women here isn’t arbitrary or demographics-driven. The sex change makes perfect contextual sense; although we lose the background creepiness of unethical male gynecologists, the fact that these Mantles can actually get pregnant—a factor that the script leverages with its typical delightful devilishness—fully compensates for the loss. In fact, the options it opens up are so intriguing that I now want to see a third adaptation of Dead Ringers where the Mantles are fraternal twins, brother and sister. Think of the implications!
Most of the praise for “Dead Ringers” quite rightly centers around Weisz’s magnificent performance, which is every but the equal of‘. (Expect an Emmy nomination for Weisz, even though Irons was snubbed by the Academy in ’88.) Weisz slides effortlessly between Beverly and Elliot, making each one distinct while creating a believable sibling dynamic. The twins’ distinct personalities are established quickly as the sarcastic pair shut down a male creep at a diner, and at almost no point in the series’ entire run will you be confused as to which twin is which. The simple but effective visual conceit is that Beverly ties her hair in a bun, while Elliot’s mane flows freely; the hairstyles reflect their personalities. Beverly, more nuanced and reflective, is the main focus, while hedonistic, co-dependent Elliot is, at times, almost the stereotypical “evil twin.” Overall, the miniseries Mantles are better developed characters, a function of more time spent with them (we even meet their parents in one episode). The extended runtime also allows the story to take some diversions: a satire of 1%ers through an amoral opiate heiress financier, a bit of science-fictiony unethical genetic experimentation (“what Frankenstein shit are you up to?”), and a brief dip into gynecology’s unsavory racist history, as well as an unnecessary and somewhat disappointing subplot with the Mantles’ obsessive housekeeper, whose mysterious plots have less payoff than we might hope.
While the original movie verged on horror, the miniseries focuses more on depraved drama, although it has plenty of birthing gore and other “sick” moments that will make you squirm with discomfort or disgust—both physical and moral. If that sounds like a Cronenbergian attitude, it sure is. But the feminine spin and unexpected twists make this a fresh trip into gynecology Hell. Reacquaint yourselves with these mirror-image Mantles; you’ll be glad you did.
Footnote: in an example of “how to quote 366 Weird Movies without actually quoting it,” Alison Herman writes in her Variety review that “‘Dead Ringers’ recycles the film’s most indelible image, decking out the twins in blood-red sets of scrubs.” (Actually, Herman’s observation is almost certainly a coincidence, but we’ll take it as evidence of our subliminal influence on movie criticism.)
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY: