Twin Falls Idaho is not a story about a pair of freak-show Siamese twins. It is a love story set in a freak-show world. The strength of the clever film lies in the strong sense of irony behind the situations and characters. Instead of presenting a freakish pair of twins and a hardened prostitute, three unique characters are portrayed as sensitive, unsure people coping in a strange environment. The strangeness of the anonymous city, the dark, dirty hotel, and the weird people that inhabit them are subverted by the intricacy of the characterization of the brothers, Blake and Francis Falls.
Blake and Francis are conjoined twins living in a seedy, dilapidated hotel on Idaho Avenue. Penny, a young prostitute, is hired by the twins on their birthday, and ends up staying. Along the way, she learns to understand them for who they are as different people and as one living system. Her shocked reaction to the twins is quickly remedied once she ends up taking care of them when Blake falls ill. As the story develops, Penny becomes a close friend and tries to protect them from the world outside of their hotel. They venture out to a Halloween party on the one night Blake and Francis can be out and appear "normal." Francis and Penny end up falling in love, forming a strange love triangle. Eventually, Blake gets sick and their neighbour, Jesus, takes them to the hospital.
Real-life non-conjoined twins Mark and Michael Polish co-wrote and starred in this movie. Their own relationship and their childhood fascination with Chang and Eng Bunker, conjoined twins who worked as circus attractions, lead the Polish brothers to explore the unique relationship between conjoined twins. Twin Falls Idaho focuses on Blake and Francis' experience of living constantly together as one complete entity. Blake needs Francis to survive, whereas Francis could probably survive if separated from his twin. Being alone is a fundamental issue faced by both the twins and Penny in different ways.
Twin Falls Idaho balances a combination of light and dark, silence and sound. The dialogue is slow and specific; there is no need for a shower of adjectives or extended monologues to develop the characters. Instead, the set and lighting design, which are soaked in symbolism, develop the plot line in silence, adding details to the story while the characters interact. For example, the darkness of the city, the hotel and the room create the sense of emotion felt by the characters. The hotel room is a sickly green. The door has a black metal grate to peer through. The colour connects to Blake's health and the dependent relationship he has on Francis, and the repercussions of their isolated life. The image of the cage connects to the duality of their social position. Whether caged as freaks or by their own desire for protection, the sense of futility against the force of social stigmatism is obvious.
The movie progresses out of the city and the last scene, set in the open, sunny countryside, signifies the change in circumstance of the characters. Either by acceptance or force, they face truth without shadows and have to begin the next stage of the story.
Considering the story line, this movie could have played on human curiosity, exploiting what many consider to be abnormal or weird. There is a shot of their naked abdomen, which satisfies those who wanted a freak show and makes them ashamed of their desire. However, the characters of Francis and Blake are solidly developed as two totally different people in a relationship of absolute commitment and thus any freakish aspect of their situation is eliminated. Instead, Twin Falls redirects the sense of the fantastic to the screwed up society that consistently treats the twins as freaks. This is seen in the character of Jay, a sleazy entertainment lawyer who portrays an inhumane, perverse man willing to make money on exploiting the twins.
The Polish brothers successfully made a sensitive film about conjoined twins which reveals the emotional and physical reality of their world. Twin Falls Idaho distorts the freakshow by opening the door and showing who is in control of the curtain. By contrasting the community of "freaks" with the community of "normal" people, the Polish brothers firmly establish the line between who is human to who is inhumane.
Twin Falls Idaho plays at the Plaza until Nov. 25.