This is the David Cronenberg film I really had to get away from and watch again a few years later. It was a completely different movie: what had once seemed unpleasant and pointlessly bleak now seemed an uncompromising look at two hopeless lives of quiet desperation. It’s a great movie, but I warn you, if you’re not already depressed going into it, you will be when it’s over. As the twin gynecologist brothers Bev and Elliott Mantle, Jeremy Irons gets to bid farewell to his old repressed roles (with the miserable, feminine Bev) and embark on a new career in black comedy (with the blithe womanizer Elliott). These two halves of maleness are both sleeping with the same woman (Genevieve Bujold), as if trying to reconcile and become one.
Drug addiction, vaginal mutation, and clawlike gynecological instruments are also on the menu, as well as some impressive, groundbreaking motion control effects allowing both twins to occupy the same frame seamlessly (it would be another few years before the technology was up to the trickery seen in Multiplicity). According to Cronenberg, a doctor approached him after a screening and said, “Can you tell me why I feel so fucking sad having seen this film?” He responded, “It’s a sad movie.” Yep, and miles beyond the usual tearjerker. This one stings and burrows into the essence of human frailty: loneliness, madness, the illusion of union with another person, the tragedy of wanting to be what you can’t be. “It’s a sad movie”: typical Cronenberg understatement.