A REFLECTION: Dead Ringers (Cronenberg, 1989)

Davis’ The Desiring Image interweaves an argument which seeks to broaden the category of queer cinema beyond classifiable gay cinema, and dislodge automatic relations within sex, gender and desire through cinematic form and structure. Notably describing the ‘first generation’ of New Queer Cinema, this view unfolds itself towards the view that desire should be an examination outside the norms of heteronormative cinema.

David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers (1989) echoes Davis’ advocation of Deleuzian theories of perception and desire, suggesting that Cronenberg resists gendered and sexual norms in the representation of desire. Instead, he becomes more interested in how desire transforms through the aesthetic and conceptual, shown through his exploration into the complexities which govern the connection between the brother twins, Eliot and Beverley. The breakdown of Beverley’s sibling link with Eliot, whereby the horroresque nightmare of Claire physically eating through the fleshy link between the twins, depicts a deconstruction of the binaries between the mind and body. The psychological mental state of Beverley deteriorates throughout the duration of the film, complicating the biological bond shared with Eliot – where their previous experiences

Here, Cronenberg expresses the non-singularity of identity, manifesting the brothers into twins to emphasise the shifting of individuality according to desire. This is depicted through the subtractive framing of the film, where the out-of-field shots obscures a wider frame, conveying the perceptual barriers which Cronenberg imposes upon his film. As Deleuze writes, the “subject” remains a fixture of social interpretation – where Cronenberg thus generates new structures of sexuality and desire by offering different perspectives upon a singular character. Consequently, by ignoring simplistic assumptions regarding identity, he suggests that humans do not have a “singular” identity, but rather that this reveals itself according to singular impulses.

The bold colours, lines and limited depths of field creates a sense of cinematic desire by suggesting that it an omnipresent immanence.

While Davis’ book acknowledges the misogynistic and homophobic problems of Cronenberg’s film, it chooses to focus on the way Cronenberg is able to pose complex questions about what desire is. By deterritotorialising the model of queer cinema from heterosexual or homosexual conceptions, Davis elevates Deleuze’s notion that sex, gender and desire must defamiliarise itself as mutable and as “open-ended forces”. This is depicted through the womb, which becomes the ultimate wreckage of the brothers’ sense of an ordered whole universe. The surgery conducted by Beverley further reinforces this, where the cuts from the tools to the close-up of the surgical assistant in a crimson red aesthetic, highlights the total degeneration of traditional desire as it debauches into the unbalanced mindset of the twins.


Yet while Davis’ argument refutes the idea that New Queer Cinema should offer a narrow lens into LGBT stories, his advocation for New Queer Cinema in relation to Dead Ringers is an early generation of the term – whereby the development of this terminology has evolved into a movement coined by B. Ruby Rich to describe queer-themed independent filmmaking. Thus, whilst it is important to examine the way Cronenberg interrogates desire beyond the realms of a heterosexual relationship, it must be noted that Dead Ringers still exists within the realm of a heterosexual white male centric universe – bringing alight some problems which prevail under Davis’ desire to universalise the term of ‘queer cinema’ towards a broader spectrum of relationships.

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