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"Twin Falls Idaho"

By Heather Iger

SEPTEMBER 13, 1999:  A certain mystique has enveloped the concept of twinning since the time of Jacob and Esau, and perhaps beforehand. Twin themes are universal and have been fodder for fables in cultures across the globe. Greek, Roman, Iroquois, Yoruban and Muslim mythologies all reference the twin -- some as a curse, others as a blessing, but all are ensconced in levels of symbolic duplicity. The film community has not overlooked the opportunity to cash in on our collective obsession. In past Hollywood productions such as Tod Browning's Freaks, Nicholas Roeg's The Krays and David Cronenberg's Dead Ringers, filmmakers have presented their material with definitively macabre and perverse overtones. At long last, the industry has produced a movie that goes far beyond satiating our fetishistic impulses. Twin Falls Idaho is an engrossing film that approaches its subject matter with intelligence and an uncommon sensitivity as it explores issues of identity, relationships and the confines of the human form.

Twin Falls Idaho -- written, directed and starring identical twin brothers Michael and Mark Polish -- tells the story of conjoined twins, Blake and Francis Falls. The brothers are introduced through the distant, dark, makeup-laden eyes of Penny, a down-on-her-luck prostitute (played by fashion model Michele Hicks) whom the brothers have summoned on their birthday. Penny enters the decrepit bowels of their hotel and is thrust into a hallucinatory and visually stunning reality reminiscent of David Lynch. Initially, Penny is startled when confronted by the conjoined twins and the task before her and runs away in a state of distress. But her dire circumstances force her to return to the Falls' hotel room, and when one of the twins takes sick, her fear is overcome by compassion as she befriends the two.

The tragedy of the twins' predicament is too overwhelming to be divulged immediately and, after being titillated by the idea of their deformity, the story delicately shifts from the eccentric (if somewhat exploitative) and into the erudite. The twins communicate in inaudible whispers, as if the left side of the brain was conferring with the right side and, amidst these blurred distinctions of identity, a romance is born. But there is no independence for a lovelorn conjoined twin. The Falls are driven to despair by their lack of autonomy and are seemingly imprisoned within their form. Ideas of loneliness and separation are more poignant here, and as the intensity of their relationship with each other and with Penny is unveiled, so are the layers of duality.

There is a certain awkwardness that accompanies the film, unfortunately, as it switches gears from a quirky melodrama to its inherent profundity. Two-dimensional characters like Jesus (played by "Saturday Night Live's" Garrett Morris) clumsily attempt to provide some comedic levity in Blake and Francis' ill-fated lives. Also, trite plot elements like the hackneyed redemption of the hooker with the golden heart and the absolution of the mother who had abandoned her twins at birth are cringe-worthy.

Twin Falls Idaho is wrought with gratuitous visual puns, some of which work very well. A camera shot in which we see Penny peering through the door peephole in between the brothers' heads, for instance, clearly articulates her symbolic severing of the two. While other metaphors -- like the hook-handed cabby with a queer two-dollar bill -- are far too obvious. The film's shortcomings, however, are miniscule when compared to its rewards.

Twin Falls Idaho tackles some pretty heavy and thought-provoking psychological and philosophical territory, yet remains entertaining throughout. The main characters are so compelling and so convincingly performed that the audience is willing to follow them along whatever emotionally devastating path the writers have in store for them. Yet it is the tenderness employed in the treatment of the subject matter the subtle way in which the film's real dialogue emerges and takes root that make this film truly remarkable.

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