MY RESISTANCE IN THE M-TOWER is even shorter-lived than I’d sort of feared it might be.

 

As soon as I say aloud, “My M-Tower isn’t yours to take, Blut Branson,” agents swoop down from the sky — I can’t remember if they’re on ropes or parachutes — gag me with an ether rag, and load me into a truck as I’m passing out.

 

I wake up what feels like years later, though it must in reality be a few hours. I’m in a bed that’s actually pretty comfy, with a blanket pulled up to my chin and, though I don’t reach my hands up to check, a tightness that feels like a sleeping cap on my head.

 

In front of me is a combined TV/VCR unit in a wall-mounted frame, with an empty VHS box on top. The box says DEAD RINGERS 2: A David Cronenberg Film, though I immediately have the cold, creepy feeling that it’s actually a Blut Branson film, perhaps one I’m now seeing for the second time, given how familiar it feels.

 

Still, I fall right in, as I always do with Cronenberg films, even apocryphal ones.

 

This one involves the same twin duo from the original, again played by Jeremy Irons, though by this point he looks well on his way to aging into a poor man’s Jeremy Irons.

 

In this scenario, the twins are film professors at a shoddy rural college, sort of a Miskatonic University vibe; it’s maybe even shot on the same set as Re-Animator, now that I look closer. The professors teach a Monsters of the Korean New Wave course, though all the clips they screen are blacked out — probably, I think, because Branson (I mean, Cronenberg) couldn’t secure the rights. So we see the students reacting in awe to what we know is nothing.

 

As in the first Dead Ringers, the twins make sure that only one of them is ever seen at a time, so as not to let on that they’re not the same person. Their angle is to sleep with as many students as possible, same as in the original (here I begin to wonder if, unless it’s just the ether talking, perhaps this is the original, questioning my memory of that film taking place in a gynecology clinic in Toronto, though this is exactly the kind of wormhole-bound thinking I’ve been trying to train myself to nip in the bud) …

 

The heart of the drama, once the film has established its premise and reached the point where it needs to ratchet up the conflict, centers on the problem of one twin growing more infatuated with a certain student than the other twin wants him to be. (And by extension less infatuated with his twin than their symbiosis requires.)

 

In this case, it’s a Goth girl with a very conspicuous nerve disease: like the worst case of shingles ever contracted, her nerves have grown outside her body and are hanging down her face like a mane of dreadlocks. I picture her being played by Sheri Moon Zombie, but even in my semi-delirium I’m fairly certain this isn’t actually the case.

 

One twin wants nothing to do with her, but the other, either locating a genuine fetish in himself alone, or simply eager to torment his twin by acting on a non-shared desire, decides to try to sleep with her anyway.

 

He seduces her in a quickly dashed-off “office hours” montage, at the end of which they go back to the bungalow that he, Elliot (the names, too, are reprised from Dead Ringers) shares with his more sensitive, self-protective twin, Beverly.

 

While Beverly sleeps in the spare bedroom they call The Nursery, Elliot has sex with the Goth girl — whose name, he learns, is Chloë, a double-major in film theory and Japanese — in the tub.

 

SHE LEAVES IN THE MORNING and Elliot struts into the breakfast nook, ostensibly to gloat to Beverly about last night’s conquest, but before he gets a chance to speak, we see his face: riven with worm-like, protruding nerves, his lips crawling, bloody fluid dribbling from his nose into his mouth.

 

Beverly butters his toast with a derisive I told you so smile as his twin writhes. Soon he’s nothing but a rubber-band ball of nerves, tangled in himself, shrinking. Even his voice is swallowed up, struggling to croak.

 

*****

I DRIFT OFF at this point in the video, waking to find Elliot shrunken to the size of a child, Beverly now in the position of caring for him, as if this new entity were his son, not his twin.

 

Chloë is back in the picture as well, living with Beverly as a sort of mother to the baby-Elliot, as if he were the natural offspring of their night together in the tub. It’s not clear whether she understands that the man she’s living with isn’t the same as the man she slept with — perhaps their perfect twindom has her fooled more than anyone, though she must know she hasn’t given birth.

 

I get the sense, from watching Beverly’s performance in these scenes, that he’s jealous of his shrunken twin, wishing that he could’ve been the one to regress and be cared for instead … Even a horrible nerve disease like that, I imagine him thinking in voice-over, it’d be worth it if I could have back all the years I’ve wasted in the process of becoming whatever I am now … a sundered twin … an unwitting father … a rural film professor doomed to irrelevance.

 

I can’t help hearing Cronenberg himself, now the vaunted elder craftsman of such highbrow but somehow toothless fare as A Dangerous Method and Cosmopolis, likewise wishing he could have back the gory, sleazy years of his youth … If I could just get myself back to the 80s, I think, pretending I’m him, and make Videodrome and The Fly and Dead Ringers againjust one more time, I’d … I’d … I’d …

 

I nod off wondering what I’d do if I were Cronenberg, granted permission to return to the 80s for one day only. When I wake up, Blut Branson’s leaning over me with a scalpel in one hand, shining a laser pointer in my eye with the other.

 

This dislodges a new, frightening supposition, just as the tape begins to auto-rewind: what if I’ve been shown this video as a form of infantilization, before my reckoning with Blut begins … a sort of video-anesthesia … a forced regression to my own helpless infancy, same as the twin onscreen …

 

As he scours my face with the laser pointer, the phrase that keeps moving through my mind is softening me up … softening me up … he’s softening me up …

 

I’m still thinking this as he focuses the laser pointer someplace behind my ear, and makes the first incision with the scalpel. I know I should be grateful, but all I can access is terror when I realize the pain I’m ready for isn’t getting through.

 

I also realize, as he’s doing whatever he’s doing, that I’ve been so totally taken in by his sequel to Dead Ringers that all I feel is regret at not having laid my M-Tower at his feet after all. What use is it to anyone now? I wonder, aware that the scalpel is inside my skull, probably erasing my memory of this whole episode.