Dead Ringers: Is the Thriller Series Rooted in Reality?

Image Credit: Niko Tavernise/Prime Video

Amazon Prime Video’s thriller series ‘Dead Ringers’ revolves around the story of twin sisters and gynecologists Elliot and Beverly Mantle, who dream of running their own high-end birthing center. Although the two sisters share a powerful bond, their companionship gets threatened by Genevieve, who ends up dating Beverly.

Meanwhile, Elliot sets out to make significant and radical changes in human reproduction by attempting to nurture an embryo without a human body. The highly enthralling series, starring Rachel Weisz as the Mantle sisters, is a scary portrayal of twinship, making one eager to know whether their saga is based on true events. Let us provide the answer!

The Marcus Twins: Real-Life Muses for Dead Ringers

No, ‘Dead Ringers’ is not based on a true story. The show is based on David Cronenberg’s 1988 eponymous film and the novel ‘Twins,’ written by Bari Wood and Jack Geasland, which also serves as the source novel of Cronenberg’s film. Although the show and the movie are fictional, their source novel is inspired by the lives and deaths of Stewart and Cyril Marcus, twin brothers and gynecologists based in New York City. Their highly mysterious death in July 1975 opened a window to their past lives, which became the heart of several magazine features and reports. Wood and Geasland wrote their novel as a heavily fictionalized version of the Marcus brothers’ lives.

The Marcus brothers were found dead in their Manhattan apartment on July 17, 1975. As per reports, Stewart apparently died of a barbiturate overdose, while Cyril’s cause of death remains a mystery. A Time Out story at the time revealed that Stewart and Cyril “shared nearly everything,” including their addiction to barbiturates. According to renowned journalist Linda Wolfe’s feature, titled “The Strange Death of the Twin Gynecologists,” the Marcus brothers were extremely close, reminding us of the Mantle twins of both film and the show.

“They [Stewart and Cyril] had no close friends but one another. ‘They didn’t seem to need anyone but each other,’ a classmate told me,” Linda wrote in her feature, as per her book ‘The Professor and the Prostitute: And Other True Tales of Murder and Madness.’ The Marcus brothers’ closeness was reportedly seen as “peculiar” by people who knew them. This peculiarity became the foundation of Cronenberg’s body-horror classic. The director didn’t want to make a biopic of the twins. Instead, based on the source novel, he created the fictional characteristics of the Mantle brothers.

Stewart and Cyril Marcus//Image Credit: The Lineup

In the film, the Mantles deceive a group of women by swapping their identities to take advantage of them sexually, which is apparently a fictional storyline created for the screen. The revelation that one of the twin brothers is gay and the iconic “mutant women” subplot in the film are also fictional details. More than the Marcus brothers’ intriguing saga, Cronenberg was inspired by a particular notion concerning twinship to make his film.

“When was the last time a gynecologist was in a movie, even as a figure of fun? There’s something taboo there; something strange and difficult,” the director told The Criterion Collection. “Dead Ringers is conceptual science fiction, the concept being: ‘What if there could be identical twins?’ I’m suggesting that’s impossible. I can imagine a world in which they are only a concept, like mermaids,” he added about his inspiration to make the film. Regarding head writer Alice Birch’s Amazon show, fiction becomes the prominent foundation of the narrative.

Apart from the commonality that the Mantle sisters are twins and gynecologists like the Marcus brothers, no significant detail connects the fictional sisters to the real-life brothers. Even when remaking Cronenberg’s film, Birch and her writers wanted their show to have its own identity, which started with the gender flip of the Mantle siblings, who are male in the film. According to lead performer Rachel Weisz, the creative heads of the show were “very interested in seeing women with that kind of dichotomy — hugely successful professionals and hugely dysfunctional private lives,” as per EW.

‘Dead Ringers’ (1988)

According to Birch, the head writer and her team didn’t rely heavily on the film to conceive the Mantle sisters. “I think once we’d started building our characters, our Mantle twins, it was just about following them, and they took us on quite a different journey. Then you’re going through and making sure that there are little Easter eggs, and little nods, and little reference callbacks to the film,” Birch told ComicBook. In the show, the Mantle sisters are obstetricians rather than just fertility doctors. The fate of the Mantle twins in the show is different from the fate of the Mantle brothers in the film as well.

Another key narrative detail that makes the show independent of the film is the storyline around childbirth. While the Mantle brothers are invested in deceiving woman after woman in the movie, Elliot focuses on nurturing embryos without a human body to deal with infertility. On the other hand, Beverly tries her best to become a mother in the show. These differences make Amazon Prime Video’s ‘Dead Ringers’ an excellent modern retelling of the Cronenberg classic.

Read More: Best David Cronenberg Movies, Ranked