Identical Twins in Hollywood Films
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Identical Twins in Hollywood Films
Dead Ringer, Paul Henreid

Dead Ringer, Paul Henreid

These Seven Wonders are inspired by Factum, the latest multi-channel video installation by artist Candice Breitz, that explores the experiences of identical twins in Toronto. Factum will be at the White Cube in Hoxton Square from 12 February.

Identical twins often get a raw deal in Cinema: in the tradition of the doppelganger they often signify that sinister events are yet to come; are used as devices to represent split personalities; symbolise the battle between good versus evil; help complicate the plot with assumed identities; and often engage in battles over love and/or money.

1. Dead Ringers, David Cronenberg (1988)

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“Two bodies. Two minds. One soul…” What could be more terrifying than two indistinguishable gynaecologists plunging into a mental breakdown? Jeremy Irons stars in Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers as Elliot and Beverly Mantle, characters loosely based on real life identical twin gynecologists Stewart and Cyril Marcus, who died together from withdrawal from a barbiturate addiction in 1975. Beverley’s infatuation with a patient leads to depression, drug addiction and delusions that eventually ends up dragging down his double Elliot into a world of macabre gynaecological implements. If you liked Disney’s The Parent Trap, you probably won’t enjoy this film.

2. Brothers of the Head, Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe (2005)

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Conjoined twins this time, in a mockumentary loosely based on the 1977 novel by science fiction writer Brian Aldiss. Real life twins Harry and Luke Treadway play the young musicians who use punk music as a way to appropriate their status as freaks and in true punk style shove it back at society. In a similar vein to Dead Ringers above, one of the twins falls for a woman leading to jealousy, paranoia and a grisly ending.

3. Adaptation, Spike Jonze (2002)

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In Adaptation, Nicholas Cage plays both screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and his twin brother Donald, in a film written and produced by the surrealist screenwriter himself, Charlie Kaufman. The film follows Charlie’s struggle to adapt Susan Orlean’s book into a screenplay, whilst trying to cope with the sell-out screenwriting ambitions of his freeloading relation, Donald. The screenplay is credited to both Charlie and Donald, and although Donald is a fictitious character he has won several awards including a BAFTA for the screenplay of Adaptation.

4. Dead Ringer, Paul Henreid (1964)

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“Mirror, mirror, on the wall, now who’s the fairest twin of all?” As if one Bette Davis wasn’t fabulous enough, here we have two scheming siblings played by the terrifying leading lady herself in this Noir thriller. Sisters Edith and Margaret are reunited by the death of Margaret’s husband Frank unearthing yet another twin love triangle. Cue anger, revenge, and as the title suggests – murder and assumed identity.

5. The Black Room, Roy William Neill (1935)

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Horror legend Boris Karloff plays the wicked Baron Gregor de Bergmann and his good natured brother Anton. The scene is set when at the twins birth the Doctor reveals the legend of the House of de Bergmann to the father and prophesises that there will once again be a murder in the Black Room… Here good versus evil, and there’s more duplicity, deception and death.

6. The Dark Mirror, Robert Siodmak (1946)

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Another wonderful Film Noir murder mystery, with Olivia de Havilland giving a fantastic performance in another good twin versus bad twin scenario. When the sisters are accused of a murder, a psychologist is brought in to run tests on the twins to discover which is the mad murderess. This film is particularly brilliant for the wonderful quack psychiatry he comes out with such as “all women are rivals, fundamentally” and “lots of twins are reflections of each other, everything in reverse”. And in the spirit of his sentiments, there are many mirror shots throughout the film (particularly poignant in the end scene).

7. The Shining, Stanley Kubrick (1980)

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Is there anyone alive who doesn’t recognise the image of The Grady Twins? Two of the most iconic twins in contemporary cinema, the girls have been written about and parodied many times since, (though never fear, the young actors have since gone on to lead normal lives). The image of the girls standing in the corridor is supposedly inspired by Diane Arbus’s 1967 photograph of sisters Cathleen and Colleen Wade in Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey, 1967. The Grady Twins were one of may mirroring devices Kubrick used throughout the film to add to the horror of Jack Torrance’s descent into madness at the hands of his demons.

Do let us know below of any twins we’ve neglected, that you think you should join this band of scoundrels.


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