Saturday, 20 March 2010

I Want to Keep It For Myself

Dead Ringers (1988) - the story of twin gynecologists (both deliciously portrayed by Jeremy Irons) and their twisted relationship with an actress patient is a psychological modern classic from that 'freak' expert, David Cronenberg. As with his dark masterpiece, Crash (1997), Cronenberg explores the obsessive aspects of human nature and it's rocky relationship with the sense of control (or lack of). This is a frequently common theme throughout his filmography but ocassionally his films lack real substance as in the bizarrely fun but half-baked Videodrome (1983) and the vacant eXistenZ (1999). Here, he successfully manages the balance between 'freak' cinema and human cinema.

Confronted by a subject depicting twin brothers, one could be wary of lazy ying/yang characterisation and predictable freudian symbolism but Cronenberg defies such pitfalls and actually uses such stereotypes to his benefit, as he litters the film with typically playful sadistic dialogue (surely the use of words such as 'mutant' and 'deformed' are a knowing wink to himself), whilst Irons pushes the limit, making both characters individual yet cohesive and their transition and desperate situation most believable.

Jeremy Irons is not an actor who varies his appearance or voice too much from film-to-film so can occasionally appear a little repetitive but he thrives within the boundaries of darker material - he is an actor who is completely open to embracing the dark side of humanity and more importantly, without judging it. This is further demonstrated in Louis Malle's Damage (1992) and Adrian Lyne's Lolita (1998), and here he has never been better.

It can be exhilarating observing an individual cross social boundaries, as we are often reluctant to ever fully explore our own limits. Obviously, we do not aspire to lose our sanity or remain in such a state for an overly long period of time but it is an fascinating environment to observe and however voyeuristic, we and Cronenberg are simultaneously hypnotised, fearful and devilishly intrigued by viewing this transition to the verge of meltdown - a most human emotional response.

Dead Ringers is a powerful depiction of how one's environment can prevent them from developing relationships outside such artificially created perimeters, leading to an obsession of your distorted view of perfection and ultimately the inability to accept any other perception of reality - a wickedly dangerous state to embody.

Coming Up: Whilst Jeremy Irons does not seem to have anything firm in the pipeline cinema-wise, David Cronenberg (as it stands - his IMDB page seems to change weekly) is planning The Talking Cure (2011), which looks at the relationship between psychoanalysis pioneers, Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud and currently slated to star Viggo Mortensen, Keira Knightley and Michael Fassbender - count me in!

Are you a fan of Dead Ringers, Jeremy Irons and/or David Cronenberg?
How will film history ultimately reflect upon David Cronenberg and his work?


  1. I like to take a quote from Roger Ebert to describe just about every early David Cronenberg film except Dead Zone: "I amired the craft of the direction. I admired the acting. And I hated it." That sums up this movie perfectly for me. Like all early Cronenberg movies he stars with a great premise about his favourite subjects (the duality of man, the nature of evolution) but just pays this off with gore in the end. I hate when he does that. Thankfully with History of Violence and Eastern Promises he went for simple stories that he told intellectually instead what he used to do which was find complex stories and just bathe them in blood and goo.

  2. I would agree with The Dead Zone, The Fly etc Mike but for me Dead Ringers was the first signs of any History of Violence maturity from Cronenberg. I didn't really see it as a pay-off, more as a gradual curve towards insanity and loss of identity.

    Do you agree that potentially his next feature sounds most exciting - it's hardly going to be your Le Vie en Rose type biopic!

    Being from Canada (if i remember rightly?!), do you have any particular favorite directors or actors from your homeland?

  3. Yes, I think Cronenberg's next movie sounds interesting but I'm not so sure if him dealing directly with the men who sometimes influence his films will become too heavy handed or if he will approach it like Soderberg did with Kafka and simply tell a story that evokes their essence. Someone once said to me that Cronenberg would be the perfect man to do an adaptation of The Hulk, which makes sense, but if people didn't buy Ang Lee's version, Cronenberg's version wouldn't have a chance.

    The problem with Canadian film currently is that it is trying very hard to be as American as possible. Telefilm Canada a couple years back gave out grants to people who could make movies that most closely resembled an American film. Sad. The other problem is that I find a lot of Canadian films pretty short-sighted. I know Deepa Mehta gets a lot of international recognition but really, I don't find her films that deep or moving or worth second viewings. Guy Maddin is an interesting filmmaker who, if you haven't heard of him, works at evoking the spirit of classic silent cinema. Check out his latest, My Winnipeg, if you have yet to see it. I also admired Paul Haggis' Valley of Ellah very much and love some parts of his Crash as well.

    And of course, Atom Egoyan, but I've already covered him over on my own blog. Speaking of, I'm going to see Chole on this weekend. Should have a review soon!

  4. That's an interesting point Mike but Cronenberg does seem to be more restrained in his last two or three features so here's hoping!

    I did see My Winnipeg - reminded me a little of a Terrence Davies film - interesting blend of documentary and fantasy. Any others of his worth checking out?

    Can't say i'm a Haggis fan but he seems to work with actors fairly well.

    Do you think Denys Arcand is a decent filmaker?
    How about Sarah Polley?

  5. One thing about Canada is that it has always seemed to have had two film industries: Quebec and the rest of the country. Honestly, the likelihood of a French film succeeding in the rest of the country is about as likely as any foreign film doing the same, meaning, it's rare. Arcand is one of those filmmakers who has crossed over simply because he managed to get national recognition with The Barbarian Invasions, but besides a few others, ask me any other film he has made and I wouldn't be able to give you many titles. That said, I think he is the kind of filmmaker who makes a few really good movies and then needs to make a really bad, self-indulgent one. For every Barbarian Invasions and Jesus of Montreal there is a Stardom in his body of work. That said, although his latest, Days of Darkness (it may have another title for the rest of North America), although falling into this category is actually pretty good. I didn't like it when I first watched it but when I thought back over it I was like, you know, that makes perfect sense.

    I don't really know any of the other Quebec filmmakers except the one who made The Red Violin and Silk.

    Another one who is worth checking out is Don Mckeller who is a descendant of Egoyan (he has acted in many of his films) but is also an accomplished writer and director. Check out Last Night which has Sarah Polley, Sandra Oh and a cameo from Cronenberg. It's quite good in a minor, open-ended kind of way.

    As for Maddin, I don't know if any of his films are as good as My Winnipeg. People seem to like The Saddest Music in the World, but I didn't but the Dracula movie he made is quite good.

  6. I like this post and the comments, it's very much like watching an exciting tennis match!

    While I have little experience with David Cronenberg and his work, I am looking forward very much to seeing "The Talking Cure." It sounds very intersting and given what you said about Mr Cronenberg's exploration of "the obsessive aspects of human nature," I'm sure it will quite captivating to watch.

    A side note, a film with Viggo Peter Mortensen and his handsome self is a welcome sight. :) tee hee! I wonder what Freud and Jung would have to say about that..