There are only a small handful of contemporary filmmakers who can capture the same sense of cinematic scope as Denis Villeneuve, with Christopher Nolan the only real rival to the Canadian filmmaker’s supremacy. A lover of science fiction and intricate human stories, Villeneuve has revolutionised the modern science fiction genre multiple times over with the releases of Enemy in 2013, Arrival in 2016 and the high-profile sequel Blade Runner 2049 in 2017.
With such films already making an impressive dent in his growing filmography, when Villeneuve became attached to adapt Frank Herbert’s sci-fi epic Dune into a novel in 2016, fans of the genre leapt with delight. Being released in 2021 after much anticipation, the adaptation was a critical and commercial smash, starring some of the industry’s most pertinent stars including Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac and Jason Momoa.
Having become a box-office hit upon its release, Dune also became a critical darling earning multiple nominations at the 2022 Oscars including for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Achievement in Production Design. In an awards year that has no specific frontrunner, Villeneuve’s film could indeed become a surprise winner of the coveted Best Picture prize, with Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland having taken home the prize in 2021.
As a purveyor of classic and modern cinema, Villeneuve is inspired by films from across the landscape of cinema, having recently revealed “the most impressive cinematic experience” of his life as Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back in an interview with Harpers Bazaar. Having an indelible effect on modern cinema, Villeneuve does not doubt the effect George Lucas’ original trilogy had on him, though credits another film as leaving a more impressionable mark.
It was whilst making his 2013 film Enemy that Villeneuve rewatched David Cronenberg’s classic psychological horror film Dead Ringers, with both films sharing an obsession with doppelgangers and mental fragility. Speaking to Filmmaker Magazine about his concern not to remake a classic, Villeneuve revealed: “In some ways, when you’re doing a movie [today], it’s very tough to make something new. Even when you think you are making something new, you find out later that somebody did it before you. It’s very hard, very frustrating”.
In an effort to avoid this, the Canadian director revisited the Cronenberg film as to not step on the filmmaker’s toes, recalling: “Of course, we watched Dead Ringers again. Dead Ringers is one of the most traumatic movies I’ve seen in my life. Dead Ringers deals with that kind of strange exploration of intimacy as well, but from a different point of view”.
Sandwiched between the release of The Fly in 1986 and Naked Lunch in 1991, Cronenberg’s 1988 film Dead Ringers follows twin gynaecologists who take advantage of the fact that nobody can tell them apart, until their lives are torn apart by the love of a woman. Starring Jeremy Irons in a career-best role alongside Geneviève Bujold, check out the trailer for the classic, traumatic psychological horror, below.