It's a story about twin gynecologists, Elliot and Beverly Mantle, who run a brisk business treating infertile women. That, and they have a tendency of taking advantage of them, too. Being the more suave of the two, Elliot woos them, and when he's finished he pulls the old switcheroo and pawns the unsuspecting women off onto Beverly.
Getting Elliot's sloppy seconds begins to tire Beverly, and he sets out to get a woman on his own. He makes the big personal leap of dating an actress he's taken a fancy to. Unfortunately, Beverly is a jangled bundle of neuroses, and when he sees the girl he's set his eyes on meeting with a coworker, Beverly jumps to the conclusion she is cheating on him.
Cue descent into delusional hell, wherein Beverly begins performing unnecessary operations with custom gynecological tools on women who he believes have "mutant genitalia". When the effects of his declining mental health spill over into the brother's practice, the board of health suspends Beverly's license. Elliot, who had always been sensitive to his sibling's fragility, leaves his practice and his current love interest to join Beverly, who has holed himself up in their apartment.
The twins then embark on a medical procedure to separate themselves for health reasons. Has it been mentioned that they aren't conjoined twins?
This film operates on the following tropes:
- Always Identical Twins: Beverly and Eliott are identical twins, played by the same actor, Jeremy Irons.
- Angsty Surviving Twin: At the end, Beverly kills his brother with surgical tools at the latter's request in a drug-fueled stupor. He doesn't outlive his brother for long, as he simply can't bear to live without him and instead chooses to die with Elliot.
- Bed Trick: Elliot seduces women, then hands them over to Beverly once he's tired of them, without the women knowing they're sleeping with two different men.
- Body Horror: A Cronenberg staple.
- The Nightmare Sequence.
- The medical instruments.
- A disturbingly subtle one for what's not shown is Beverly's diagnosis of Claire; the reason she can't get pregnant is because she has three uteruses, each with its own cervix. When Beverly calls Claire and gets her (male) receptionist, he believes she's cheating on him — and tells him about her condition. Claire's actually a good sport about it; she's already accepted Beverly's neuroses, and is less disturbed by the confidentiality breach than she is by her receptionist's reaction — he was a Flamboyant Gay before Beverly accused him of "fucking a mutant", which grossed him out beyond recognition.
- Canada, Eh?:
- Toronto is given as the setting for the majority of the film (with the exception of one scene near the beginning set in a university in America). A fairly realistic depiction without any stereotypes. Also Geneviève Bujold is actually French-Canadian, though it is not explicitly stated whether her character Claire is as well.
- Her last name (Niveau) and accent would suggest that to be the case.
- Catapult Nightmare: Beverly falls from his bed after a Nightmare Sequence where Claire separated him from his brother Elliot.
- Cow Tools: Beverly's custom-made gynecological instruments are shown on display, and they are quite nasty looking, but (thankfully) their utility is never made explicit.
- Daydream Surprise: Beverly is sleeping with Claire. Elliot shows up and Claire suggests to separate Beverly from Elliot. Then she starts biting a sort of umbilical cord that links the twins together. Cut to Beverly waking up. This was just a nightmare.
- Descent into Addiction: After meeting Claire, Beverly becomes addicted to meds. His brother finally follows suit.
- Dramatization: Cronenberg based the film on the deaths of Stewart and Cyril Marcus. However, the Marcus twins were "just" a pair of gynecologists who shared a practice, an apartment, a drug addiction, and were both found in said apartment some time after they died of withdrawal, resulting in them looking like rotten beef jerky - and no one really knows what the hell actually happened. Cronenberg, being Cronenberg, decided that all of this wasn't creepy enough...
- Driven to Suicide: Beverly kills himself in the end.
- Evil Twin: Zig zagged. In the beginning, Eliott is presented as a complete jerkass, while Beverly seems to be a rather Nice Guy in contrast with his brother (even if using a Bed Trick is clearly not something nice). In the end, Beverly becomes a Mad Doctor and Eliott is the more sensible and the less dangerous of the two.
- Foreshadowing: The gynecological instrument that Beverly designs when he is still an undergraduate student foreshadows the instruments that he designs in the end.
- Gender-Blender Name: Claire points out that Beverly is considered as a feminine name.
- I Was Told There Would Be Cake: Perhaps surprisingly, the eating of a delicious cake is an integral part to The Climax.
- Identical Twin ID Tags: As the story progresses, Beverly and Elliot's personalities diverge due to one of the twins' advancing mental instability. This is reflected in their appearance, with Elliot maintaining a healthy, well-tanned look while Beverly develops bags under his eyes, a sickly pallor, and a nervous twitch.Beverly's the sweet one...and you're the shit.
- Law of Inverse Fertility: The Mantle twins treat infertile women who want to conceive. Claire is one of them.
- Mad Doctor: Beverly, after his mental decline.
- Market-Based Title: The original name of the film was Twins, but it had to be changed thanks to the Schwarzenegger/DeVito film coming out first.
- A Minor Kidroduction: In the prologue, the Mantle brothers are young boys who already discuss about sex and gynecology.
- Mistaken for Cheating: Beverly thinks that Claire cheats on him because a coworker answered on the phone of her hotel room. She was just having a profesional meeting in her room.
- Nightmare Sequence: There's one in the middle of the film and it is pretty... disturbing. Beverly is sleeping with Claire. Elliot shows up and Claire suggests to separate Beverly from Elliot. Then she starts biting a sort of umbilical cord that links the twins together.
- Non-Nude Bathing: Toward the end of the movie, Beverly comes across Elliot in the midst of his own breakdown, sitting in the shower, fully clothed.
- Really Gets Around: Claire says that she does everything she can to get pregnant, like being extremely promiscuous.
- Sanity Slippage: Because of his addiction to meds, his jealousy and his difficulty to live independently from his brother, Beverly becomes increasingly insane. He begins seeing genital mutations in his patients that do not really exist. But the madness spreads to Elliot via twin osmosis. This leads to them using a scalpel to perform a "separation procedure", AKA a murder-suicide.
- Sibling Triangle: Claire has a relationship with both Beverly and Elliot. She is not aware of it, since her lovers are identical twins and Elliot pretends to be Beverly when he meets her.
- Spiritual Antithesis: To the film Cronenberg made immediately before this, The Fly (1986). Both are adapted from written works. Each is a Psychological Thriller Tragedy with only a few significant characters in which a man's jealous love for a woman inadvertently sends him into Sanity Slippage. Both involve extensive special effects and a lead actor seriously committed to their performance on physical and mental levels. But where The Fly is a science fiction film involving a transformation into both a Half-Human Hybrid and Mad Scientist with extreme amounts of onscreen Body Horror, this is a more realistic story of someone who becomes a Mad Doctor and Body Horror is more suggested than shown. Where The Fly involves two entities (the scientist and a housefly) merging into one with the special effects turning Jeff Goldblum into that creature, this involves two entities trying to separate themselves — the doctor and his twin — with special effects allowing Jeremy Irons to play both. The visuals, acting, and tone are icy and chic here, whereas The Fly is warmer and dowdier. The trailer actually positioned it as this trope in its narration (and used Recycled Trailer Music from its precursor): "From David Cronenberg, who in The Fly made the fantastic real...Now, David Cronenberg makes reality the ultimate fantasy."
- Together in Death: A particularly wrenching example. When the twins reach the nadir of their breakdown, they perform a "surgery" where Beverly effectively eviscerates Elliot. After he realizes what he's done, Beverly makes one final, abortive attempt to connect with his new paramour. He instead decides to join Elliot in death, cradling his brother's body.
- Trash of the Titans: The twins' private hospital is full of trash in the end, because they have become insane.
- Troubled Fetal Position: Beverly does the "rocking back and forth" variation at one point.
- Troubling Unchildlike Behaviour: The film begins with a flashback to Elliot and Beverly as 9-year-old children, discussing the evolutionary basis for sexual reproduction in humans. It works as an Establishing Character Moment for how connected Elliot and Beverly are to one another yet completely at odds with the rest of society and culminates in one of the few funny moments in the film:Raffaella: Are you kidding?! Fuck off, you freaks! I'm telling my father you talk dirty. Besides, I know for a fact you don't even know what a fuck is. *storms off*Elliot: They're so different from us. And all because we don't live under water.
- Twin Switch: The Mantle twins do it regularly with the women they date. As far as Claire is concerned, she first meets Beverly during a consultation, then she has a date with Elliot and has sex with him. Her next date is with Beverly who has sex with her too... and Claire thinks that she is always with the same person. She does not even know that Beverly has a twin brother.
- Twin Threesome Fantasy:
- Elliot orders up an evening of "entertainment" with a pair of high-class twin hookers called Coral and Mimsy. Taking it even further, he requests that one of them call him by his own name, and the other call him by his brother's name...
- In a later scene, Elliot's girlfriend tries to initiate a threesome with him and Beverly. Elliot seems totally into it, but Beverly is way too uncomfortable.
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Cronenberg based the film on the deaths of Stewart and Cyril Marcus. However, the Marcus twins were "just" a pair of gynecologists who shared a practice, an apartment, a drug addiction, and were both found in said apartment some time after they died of withdrawal, resulting in them looking like rotten beef jerky - and no one really knows what the hell actually happened. Cronenberg, being Cronenberg, decided that all of this wasn't creepy enough...