Dead Ringers Review
By Stacy Cacciatore
I watched the Cronenberg film, Dead Ringers this week for the first time, in preparation for this class, and I certainly feel that it hits on what Burke is saying about identification. Beverly and Elliot Mantle are identical twins, played by Jeremy Irons. Throughout the film, they act like two sides of a coin, one demure and shy, the other witty and charming…together they form a whole. They “share” women, with Elliot seducing the women with his charm, then handing her over to Beverly to “enjoy”.Cronenberg shows us this pattern from the very beginning, as young boys they ask a little girl to have sex with them in the tub. What’s interesting is the point Burke makes, “the imagery of slaying is a special case of transformation, and transformation involves the ideas and imagery of identification. That is: the killing of something is the changing of it, and the statement of the thing’s nature before and after the change is an identifying of it” (p. 20). Beverly and Elliot portray this literally, as they identify so much with each other that neither one can be himself without the other. Cronenberg foreshadows the fact that Beverly and Elliot identify so much with each other that they can’t live nor die without the other in the scene when they discuss the first Siamese twins:
Elliot Mantle: Don’t do this to me, Bev.
Beverly Mantle: But I’m only doing it to me. Why don’t you get along with your very own life?
Elliot Mantle: Do you remember the first Siamese twins?
Beverly Mantle: Chang and Eng were joined at the chest.
Elliot Mantle: Remember how they died?
Beverly Mantle: Chang died of a stroke in the middle of the night. He was always the sickly one. He was always the one who drank too much. When Eng woke up beside him to find that his brother was dead… he died of fright. Right there in the bed.
Elliot Mantle: Does that answer your question?
What they are communicating in this moment is that even though they are not bound together through skin and organs, such as Siamese twins, there are just as intertwined, emotionally and intellectually.
We then see the dream in which Beverly and Elliot are Siamese twins, a visualization of the psyche demonstrating the realization that they are just like Chang and Eng. The only one who could separate them is Claire, who does so grotesquely by eating the skin that connects them.
Beverly and Elliot view the opposition of “identification” as “division”, therefore they think that the only solution to their identification problem is to literally divide. Burke says, “Identification is affirmed with earnestness precisely because there is division. Identification is compensatory to division,” (22).
We see this in the final scene in which Beverly “separates” himself from his brother by killing him. Then he squanders the only opportunity he has to claim his own identity, discovering he is now lost and wandering, literally calling out for Elliot in a blind madness, oblivious to his dead body in the corner. Beverly calls Claire, presumably to start the life he was so desperate to create, the life that he could only have without the presence of his brother, only to run back into his dead brother’s arms. This scene harks back to the reference of Chang and Eng, as we realize that Elliot and Beverly can also not live apart.
This film is an excellent portrayal of Burke’s identification and division. The brothers identify with each other so much, that they don’t have their own identity. One cannot exist without the other, they only exist in the shadow of each other.
Burke, Kenneth. A Rhetoric of Motives. U of California P, 1969.
Cronenberg, David. Dead Ringers. 20thCentury Fox, 1988.