Truthfully, the most ineffable horror aspects of this medical psychodrama are the Greco-Roman torture equipment that the gynecologists implement for their surgeries. In a satiny red robe that could be a prop costume from Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, identical twin Beverly Mantle wields examination tools that look like insect pincers. For anyone (especially females) who is squeamish about under-the-scalpel procedures, this film will shake them to the core.
The aforementioned sequence would be effectively surreal if it was steeped in dream logic but even Beverly’s assistants are mortified by these contraptions. In the dichotomized roles, Jeremy Irons delivers tour-de-force performances of envy and slipping sanity. It’s additionally impressive when David Cronenberg must splice the brothers together and the split-screen work is undetectable such as an emotionally wrenching scene where Beverly is weeping over his unfaithful sweetheart in Elliot’s office. Both Irons and Cronenberg refrain from tawdry theatricality in differentiating Elliot and Beverly. No antithetical eyeglasses, hairstyles or other hackneyed choices.
It’s a surprisingly sedate film for Cronenberg who normally oxygenates his film with haute tension. A flashback to their detached upbringing in Toronto, Canada circa the 50’s is insightfully laced with bawdy black humor when the duo propositions a young lady to have sex with them in a bath for an “experiment.”
Before the spiral into symbiotic erosion, Cronenberg is flippant about his fascination with internal organs (“I’ve often thought there should be beauty contests for the inside of bodies. You know. Best spleen”). For the majority of it, the picture is a remarkable character study on how twins share more than DNA strains; they reciprocate sexual conquests and career achievements/disgraces.
Elliot is the more cavalier and womanizing of the twosome and Irons is unerringly screwball when he is reluctantly consoling a sobbing patient while gesturing for his assistant (“I’m no good with the serious ones.”). Outside of the hardware gimmickry, the film is a cripplingly vitriolic, cerebral expose on experiential fluidity of the Mantle siblings.
Rating: 4 out of 5