Archive for September 1988

Dead Ringers

September 23, 1988

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.

Eight Men Out

September 2, 1988

Another great, measured slice of Americana from John Sayles, here adapting Eliot Asinof’s book about the 1919 Black Sox scandal. The movie has been unfairly criticized for not being clear enough about the facts, for assuming the audience knows more than it does. Well, I know nothing about baseball, yet Sayles’ key theme — how does the American dream of prosperity and individualism hold up under the corruption of capitalism? — comes through loud and clear. The more cynical players on the Chicago White Sox, dissatisfied with their miserly salaries, can’t resist the temptation to throw the World Series. Sayles presents their decision as a regrettable but humanly understandable response to being treated like wage slaves. At the same time, he shows other players who mourn what the game has become: idealistic John Cusack, who refuses to do less than his best; aging David Strathairn, whose pain at throwing intentionally bad pitches is obvious; D.B. Sweeney, whose Shoeless Joe Jackson is naive and illiterate. Like the best sports movies, this is only marginally about the sport; its final subject is the genesis of 20th-century American disillusionment. A great cast: Clifton James, Michael Lerner, Christopher Lloyd, Richard Edson, Charlie Sheen, Michael Rooker, John Mahoney, Kevin Tighe (one of Sayles’ favorite villains), Gordon Clapp, Maggie Renzi, Perry Lang, Studs Terkel, Bill Irwin, and Sayles himself as the acerbic Ring Lardner.