What is the Meaning of the Dead Ringers Title?

Image Credit: Niko Tavernise/Prime Video

Based on David Cronenberg’s eponymous film and ‘Twins’ by Bari Wood and Jack Geasland, Amazon Prime Video’s psychological thriller series ‘Dead Ringers’ revolves around the intricate lives of Elliot and Beverly Mantle, twin gynecologists who are best described as inseparable. The two sisters share the same house, profession, and dream until an actress named Genevieve gets into a relationship with Beverly. The series progresses through the consequences of Beverly’s decision to share her life with her partner while the distance between herself and her sister Elliot increases. Like the relationship between the twin sisters, the title of the show is also ambiguous. If you are curious about the meaning of the same, let us share what we know! SPOILERS AHEAD.

Historical Context of the Phrase Dead Ringers

‘Dead Ringers’ is the title body-horror auteur David Cronenberg chose for his 1988 film adaptation of the novel ‘Twins,’ written by Bari Wood and Jack Geasland. When he was developing the film, the director wanted to avoid a plain and unambiguous title. “Any title with the word ‘Brothers,’ ‘Sisters,’ ‘Split,’ ‘Reflection,’ ‘Double,’ or ‘Mirror’ was automatically disqualified,” Cronenberg told SPIN. The search for a suitable title must have led him and the co-writer of the film Norman Snider to ‘Dead Ringers.’ According to Merriam-Webster, the phrase “dead ringer” means “someone who looks exactly like someone else.”

The phrase was widely in use in the 19th century to describe a horse that was presented “under a false name and pedigree” in the horse-racing scene of the time. The word “ringer” in the phrase had negative connotations such as the implication of dishonesty and fraud while the word “dead” in the phrase means “precise.” Eventually, the word started to be used to refer to extreme lookalikes. Although “dead” literally means precise in this context, Cronenberg used the same to reflect the horror elements in his film through the title, similar to the title of one of his previous films, ‘The Dead Zone.’ “And here I’ve got ‘Dead’ in the title again. Don’t think that coincidence has been lost on me for a moment,” the filmmaker added to SPIN.

In both the film and the show, the Mantle siblings’ actions have “deadly” or life-threatening repercussions. In Cronenberg’s film, the deadly consequences affect the lives of both identical twins or “ringers.” In a way, the director sums up the resolution of the film in the title itself. Although head writer Alice Birch and her group of writers must have used the same title to honor their show’s source material, the series also succeeds in startling the viewers with the deadly consequences of Beverly’s actions, which ends up threatening her life. Therefore, the title ‘Dead Ringers’ introduces the viewers of both the film and the show to the horrors in the respective works more than the neutral titles such as ‘Twins,’ ‘Brothers,’ or ‘Sisters.’

Image Credit: Niko Tavernise/Prime Video

With the title ‘Dead Ringers,’ both the film and the show explore how two identical twins can never be the exact same individuals. “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,” Cronenberg told The Criterion Collection. His words are justified by the differences between Elliot and Beverly. In the show, Elliot aims to become “God” by nurturing embryos without the human body while Beverly aims to live a simple and contented life with her partner Genevieve.

Ultimately, ‘Dead Ringers’ is a suitable and nuanced title for the film and the show which depict the saga of two identical siblings or ringers whose lives get threatened due to the differences between them.

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