Inseparable: double and obsession in David Cronenberg’s masterpiece

As Dead Ringers makes its TV debut, we rediscover the David Cronenberg film that gave rise to the series: Dead Ringers, starring Jeremy Irons in a chilling dual role.

Inseparable: double and obsession in David Cronenberg's masterpiece

It’s not the iron that was wrong, it was the body… that woman’s body was completely wrong!

In probably the most famous scene of Inseparable, or at least the one that has remained impressed in the collective imagination, the gynecologist Beverly Mantle prepares to conduct surgery with a sort of liturgical ceremony: in the cold and aseptic light of the operating room, the man is dressed in a red it rather resembles a priest’s tunic, while the bizarre cap on its head leaves only the eyes uncovered. But at the conclusion of this sinister ritual, to signal the definitive short circuit between reality and the nightmare are the tools that Dr. Mantle is about to use, arousing the dismay of his assistants: a sample of tools of terrifyingly anomalous workmanship, made made by Beverly specifically to work on an ‘incorrect’ organism but which appear as ancestral instruments of torture.

Dead Ringers

Inseparable: A close-up of Jeremy Irons

The obsession with the body and its mutations, the cornerstone of the filmography of David Cronenberg since its origins, in Inseparable is declined in a rather singular way: this time the deformation is inside, and therefore the source of the paranoia is closed to the gaze and relegated to the field of the imagination. It is the first distinctive trait of the work, distributed in North America on September 23, 1988, compared to the itinerary followed up to that moment by the Canadian director, who in the second half of the 1970s had established himself as the main standard bearer of the body horror genre through titles such as The demon under the skin, Rabid e Brood – The evil brood. And it is a turning point, that of Inseparablewhich arrives just two years after The Fly, Cronenberg’s ‘popular’ consecration film as well as an indisputable cornerstone of eighties horror.

Elliot and Beverly: the two faces of Jeremy Irons

Dead Ringers

Inseparable: A close-up of Jeremy Irons

The story of Inseparable dates back to the tragic news story of the twins Stewart and Cyril Marcus, who in 1977 had already inspired the novel Twins by Bari Wood and Jack Geasland, then adapted in 1988 by David Cronenberg and his co-writer Norman Snider. Homozygous twins, both esteemed professionals in the field of gynecology, Elliot and Beverly Mantle are two complementary characters, expressions of opposite sides in the spectrum of the human psyche: Elliot is lucid, rational, endowed with a ruthlessness that borders on cynicism, while Beverly is more sensitive he is restless and suffers a form of subjection towards his brother. To embody the couple of protagonists is the thirty-nine English Jeremy Ironswho had already shown his talent in films such as The French lieutenant’s woman e Mission and was chosen by Cronenberg after he unsuccessfully tried to sign Robert De Niro and William Hurt.

David Cronenberg: his best films, between body horror and stories of violence

Jeremy Irons Genevieve Bujold

Inseparable: Jeremy Irons and Geneviève Bujold

If Elliot and Beverly consciously play with the interchangeability deriving from their appearance, the challenge of this dual role lies precisely in the intimate diversity of two individuals united in a symbiotic relationship with pathological contours. Jeremy Irons thus immerses himself in the contrasts and ambiguities of the Mantle twins with an exemplary performance, which rejects all mannerisms to rely instead on nuances: from brushstrokes of nervousness in gestures and voice to slight oscillations in their power relationships. And it is precisely these oscillations that subtract Elliot and Beverly from the bedrock of archetypes, altering their dichotomy just enough to transport the story towards more uncertain and foggy territories: when Beverly, overwhelmed by feelings for the actress Claire Niveau, cracks for first time that balance that makes him and Elliot almost two halves of a single human being.

David Cronenberg’s horror melodrama

Dead Ringers Bujold Irons

Inseparable: Geneviève Bujold and Jeremy Irons

It is the Canadian star Geneviève Bujold who lends her face to Claire: initially a victim of the deception of the two brothers, to whom she turns in order to cure her infertility, but destined to become an irresistible pole of attraction for Beverly, torn apart by conflict between a centripetal force (his dependence on Elliot) and a centrifugal pull (his love for their patient). And Claire’s trifurcated uterus, another case of deviation from the norm, constitutes the obscure object of man’s desire: obscure precisely because it is hidden, but also because of a ‘monstrosity’ (monstrous in that it is extraordinary) correlated to that of the Mantle twins, identical in physical appearance and psychically inseparable. Not surprisingly, in the film’s only digression from realism, Beverly dreams – and therefore feel – to be connected to Elliot as well in the body, until Claire intervenes to separate them by literally biting them.

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Jeremy Irons

Inseparable: a picture of Jeremy Irons

Film that opens a new phase in the production of David Cronenberg, in which the horror short will also leave room for incursions into the depths of the human mind (Naked lunch, M. Butterfly, Spider) and in the ravines of a deviant sexuality (Crash, A Dangerous Methoduntil very recently Crimes of the Future), Inseparable therefore stands as the watershed masterpiece of a director committed to carrying on a surprising contamination of genres; and which in this case presents us with a poignant love story staged as a horror, combining themes and suggestions of melodrama – an exhausting and self-destructive passion – with the descent into madness of the two characters, linked to each other by a constraint beyond which there seems to be no hope of survival.

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