‘Dead Ringers’ (1988) Film Ending, Explained: Is It Based On A True Story? What Happens To Beverly And Elliot?


Directed by one of the masters of body horror films, “Dead Ringers” is David Cronenberg’s twisted perspective on the possible horrors surrounding twin brothers. The film is centered around brothers Beverly and Elliot Mantle, both gynecologists who often exchange their roles in life since nobody can tell them apart. While “Dead Ringers” is not the most thematically consistent or mesmerizing film, it surely has the usual Cronenberg touch and some psychological depth, which makes it interesting. With an Amazon reboot series right around the corner, here is a brief look back at the original 1988 “Dead Ringers” film.

Spoilers Ahead

‘Dead Ringers’ Plot Summary: What Is The Film About?

From a very young age, identical twin brothers Beverly and Elliot had been fascinated by the human body, particularly by the reproductive organs of the female body. It was, therefore, no wonder that the two would grow up to become gynecologists, but the sheer success they bring to the field is remarkable. Having designed a special tool used for gynecological examination, the brothers’ names have forever been etched into their field, as the tool is itself named the Mantle Retractor. But despite being extremely renowned and esteemed doctors with their own clinic in Toronto, the Mantle brothers have enough dark secrets of their own. The two have a constant habit of switching positions in each other’s lives, posing to be the other, which is very easy to do because of their exact identical physical appearances. Although nobody can tell the two men apart, there are differences in their personalities that separate them. Elliot is the more dominant and extrovert of the two, never shying away from boasting about their research and the latest developments in public seminars and gatherings. Beverly is more restrained, introverted, and shy, always preferring to stay behind the confines of their clinic, working on medical research.

The most abhorrent of their exercises is to regularly pretend to be the other with patients during gynecological examinations. Having a perverted fascination with the female body, Elliot often starts to have an affair with some of the patients, getting sexually intimate with them. But once he is over with them, Elliot sends Beverly in as the gynecologist in the following examination sessions, and it is Beverly who then gets intimate with the women. Amidst such a setup, the Mantle brothers get a new patient in a famous actress named Claire Niveau, who consults in search of a cure for her infertility. After his examination, Elliot, pretending to be Beverly, makes use of his charm to get intimate with Claire and then eventually switches positions with the brother. As Claire has no idea about the doctors being twins, she starts an affair with the man she believes to be Beverly. But there is something different this time around, as Beverly starts to feel for the woman and then declines to share the details of their romance with Elliot. This is indeed the first time that the identical twins have kept anything secret from each other.

What Happens When Claire Eventually Finds Out About The Twins?

Through its plot, “Dead Ringers” plays around with the idea of exactly how connected twins are to each other and how one would react to the psychological struggles of the other. On top of this plot are obviously the grisly visuals of Cronenberg, with gutted human bodies and treacherously shaped metal objects being posed as tools for gynecological examinations. The Mantle brothers are not the most emotionally or psychologically stable, to begin with, and their exercise of exchanging roles bears witness to it. Elliot holds a high ground over his brother, saying that Beverly gets to have intimate interactions with women only because of him as he lets Beverly pretend to be him. Although Beverly seems to get disturbed by these experiences, he does not necessarily do anything to stop them. This dynamic gradually changes, though, after Claire enters the lives of the brothers.

Like the whole premise and the two brothers themselves, Claire and her situation are also quite strange and extremely rare, perhaps making it clear that she is going to be an integral part of the brothers’ lives from here on. The reason for the actress’ infertility is her tremendously rare condition of a trifurcated cervix, which basically means that her uterus has three openings to it as opposed to just one, which is normal. This condition has had a very strong effect on Claire’s mind, as her desperation to become a mother has often landed her in troublesome situations. Perhaps her decision to easily agree to her gynecologist’s advances is also out of this same desperation, but once Claire talks with Beverly about her griefs in life, the two characters connect and start falling in love.

In order to deal with the sorrows in her life, Claire became addicted to various prescription drugs. As she admits, she would always keep close track of whatever new medicine was being prescribed by doctors. Although Beverly initially sees the possibility of this habit going wrong, he quickly provides support to Claire by writing the prescriptions for her. By now, Beverly finds a real attachment to Claire, possibly because this is the first time he had any considerable interaction with a woman beyond just having sex. Also, Claire shows her interest in Beverly’s personality and character, which is unlike what the underconfident Beverly expects from his own self. However, this romance does not last very long when Claire is informed by a friend of hers about the Mantle gynecologists actually being twins. The actress soon confronts Beverly about this and asks to meet with both brothers at a public restaurant. Here the situation worsens as Elliot disrespects her and Claire walks out of Beverly’s life. This is when the heartbroken Beverly publicly appears at a seminar and calls out his brother’s acts for the first time, but his words are taken as just drunken blabber. This is also when the man picks up on Claire’s habit of taking prescription drugs such as sedatives and relaxants, and Beverly gets hooked on pills.

Although Beverly and Claire do later reconcile and start their relationship once more, trouble strikes once again when the actress has to go away for ten long weeks to a different city for a shoot. Beverly cannot deal with the loneliness and keeps breaking down. Having been close only to his brother, the man now seems to grow more detached from his real life and surroundings. Beverly blindly believes that Claire is having an affair with her assistant, a notion that he himself makes inside his mind and one that has no truth to it. The gynecologist grows obsessed with the idea of the inner beauty of the female body, and with the apparent abnormalities in the genitalia of women he calls “mutants.” Beverly gets special tools made to operate on such women, and these instruments are very evidently unsafe to use on any patient. He then tries to operate on one patient at the hospital where he and his brother had been working, and when the junior doctors and attendants point out the unsafe nature of his instruments, Beverly passes out from his drug overdose. Soon his position at the hospital is disbanded, and both the Mantle brothers are temporarily disallowed from practicing.

‘Dead Ringers’ Ending Explained: What Happens To Beverly And Elliot?

While Beverly’s mental breakdown is entirely linked to his troubled relationship with Claire, his twin brother Elliot now starts to show similar signs of a distressed psyche. Elliot starts to believe that the only way to cure his brother’s drug addiction would be to bring himself to a point of equilibrium, meaning that he would also have to live through the same situation. In order to do so, Elliot also starts to take pills as drugs, and the confident brothers remain sure that he would be able to control any addiction, unlike the weak Beverly. However, what happens is quite the contrary, as Elliot now gets terribly addicted to the drugs, and Beverly has to think of ways to help his brother out.

In a very eerie and unnatural manner, the mental conditions and struggles of the twins are now linked with one another. The two compare their situation with that of the first Siamese twins, Chang and Eng, who were literally joined to each other since birth, and although the Mantles were not physically joined like this, they had a similar mental connection. Elliot convinces his brother that they need to operate on either of them to ensure that the other survives, and he offers to be operated on. No longer thinking straight, Beverly agrees to this and performs an operation on his twin brother, cutting him open and obviously killing him in the process. Throughout many instances, “Dead Ringers” presents the twin brothers as almost being the same individual at times. Although their personalities did differ from one another, Elliot and Beverly ultimately seemed to have the same mental inclinations, making their situation very uncanny. After Elliot’s death, Beverly tries to live his life for a few hours and even calls up his beloved Claire, who does not seem to recognize his voice right away. This is perhaps all the more devastating for Beverly, who seems to have an idea of a very obsessive love, and the man now returns to their clinic. Here, he possibly overdoses on pills and kills himself right atop Elliot’s dead body.

Is ‘Dead Ringers’ Based On Real Characters?

“Dead Ringers” is adapted from a novel by Bari Wood and Jack Geasland, titled “Twins,” which in itself is a loose adaptation of the lives of a pair of identical twins. Stewart and Cyril Marcus were identical twin brothers who were also practicing gynecologists in New York City. The elements in the film about them switching roles in each other’s lives and also getting physically involved with patients are all fictional, though, as the Marcus brothers never had any such reputation. However, there are also similarities between fact and fiction in this case. It is reported that the Marcus brothers would mostly stick to themselves and their medical research and did not really have too many relations or friends. Stewart and Cyril also had different and opposing personalities, just like Elliot and Beverly did.

What is even more similar is the way in which both the real doctors and the characters in “Dead Ringers” eventually fell from their high reputations due to drug abuse, which also led to their deaths. The real-life Marcus brothers were found dead in July of 1975, and it was Stewart Marcus who passed away first. Later examinations revealed that the man had most possibly died from a drug overdose, and Cyril had passed away a couple of days later. Cyril’s body had been found in the same apartment as his brother’s, and the man was apparently seen leaving the place after Stewart’s death. This was possibly an attempt on Cyril’s part to continue living despite the death of his brother, but ultimately he succumbed too, just like Beverly Mantle in the film. The exact reason behind Cyril’s death was never found out, and “Dead Ringers” seemingly tries to present a fictional answer to what could have actually led to the twin brother’s death.

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Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya keeps an avid interest in all sorts of films, history, sports, videogames and everything related to New Media. Holding a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies, he is currently working as a teacher of Film Studies at a private school and also remotely as a Research Assistant and Translator on a postdoctoral project at UdK Berlin.

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