Special Features

There’s No Fifty Shades of Grey Without David Cronenberg

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I’ll probably earn a special place in Genre Film Critic Hell for even entertaining this analogy, but I’m putting it out there: there’s no Fifty Shades of Grey without David Cronenberg. I know, I know, I know, but hear me out. The whole trope of “clinical businessman opens the door to a world of perversity” is straight out of the Cronenberg playbook. Just look at Vaughan, the enigmatic photographer and car-crash fetishist in Crash. There’s certainly some of it in Videodrome’s Max Renn, though he’s ultimately the one seduced in that story. And it’s more than evident in Bev and Elliot Mantle, the twin gynecologists played by Jeremy Irons in Cronenberg’s 1988 masterpiece Dead Ringers, who use their interchangeability – and their anatomical expertise – to engage in sexual practices there aren’t even names for.

Like Fifty Shades of Grey, Dead Ringers presents a suave, charismatic gentleman who turns sex into an elaborate, intellectual game; in this case, Elliot Mantle, who seduces his pick of beautiful patients before surreptitiously passing them on to his more introverted brother. As in Grey, things become complicated when feelings enter the equation (it is at this point that I should confess that I’ve never seen/read/given a fuck about Fifty Shades of Grey, but I’ve been bombarded with enough ads that I’m pretty sure I get the picture). Both films even present their own series of increasingly alarming devices. So why is Cronenberg’s work so much more acceptable?

The answer is simple: unlike Fifty Shades of Grey, Dead Ringers – and all of Cronenberg’s work – never pretends that any of this is anything less than horrifying. Where Fifty Shades of Grey dresses up its more troubling aspects in syrupy romance, the Mantles are never presented as anything less than monsters; as charming as Jeremy Irons is, it’s tough to imagine Dead Ringers making a splash with the bored housewife set. David Cronenberg will never be an airport bestseller; he’s too good for that.

Dead Ringers
1988
dir. David Cronenberg
116 min

2/20/15  & 2/21/15 : Dead Ringers @ Coolidge @fter Midnite

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