There is something fairy-tale-like, but also deeply human, about Twin Falls Idaho, a gentle, beautifully realized tale of love and intimacy that marks the feature film debut of Mark and Michael Polish. Identical twin brothers, Mark Polish wrote the script, Michael Polish directed it, and both brothers star. It is what they star as that will catch many viewers off guard and may well keep some people out of the movie theaters. The brothers play 25-year-old conjoined more commonly referred to as Siamese twins named Blake and Francis Falls, who have come to an unnamed city to find the mother who abandoned them at birth.
Attached on one entire side of their bodies, from their shoulders to their feet, the two have three legs and two arms between them. They also share several vital organs. Blake (Mark Polish), the more outgoing of the brothers, is also the healthier one; it is his heart that pumps blood through Francis and keeps him alive. Despite their gruesome physical condition, the brothers are clean-cut, intelligent, and witty, but they are understandably cautious around other people. Their experience with the outside world has not been kind; freaks of nature, they have been subjected to ridicule, expressions of horror, and harassment all their lives.
Although the movie could easily be described as a relationship drama, Twin Falls Idaho is actually a love story or, more precisely, two love stories. The first concerns the extraordinary emotional and spiritual bonds that exist between the brothers, two individuals with very different personalities who together form a third distinct being. As Myles (Patrick Bauchau, wonderfully wise and sympathetic), a doctor who visits the brothers when Francis is sick, explains, "If you put two single bills together into one [two-dollar] bill, it is worth twice its value. But tear that in half and it loses all its value. The strength is in the bond of the two."
The film's second love story revolves around Blake and Penny (Michele Hicks, an alluring, gaminelike beauty making a promising screen-acting debut), a prostitute whose initial aversion to the brothers gives way to genuine affection. Having shied away from emotional attachments in her own life, Penny finds herself increasingly drawn to these two men who, quite literally, depend upon one another for survival.
When Twin Falls Idaho premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this past winter, some critics misconstrued it as a story about a bizarre love triangle. Others mistakenly placed the film in David Lynch territory, presumably because of the unorthodox subject matter and its unusually evocative visual style. Both sets of reviewers missed the boat entirely.
The movie never presents the twins as freaks, although certain characters in the film treat them as such. Certainly their physical appearance is shocking and a source of curiosity but the actors create a sense of empathy for their characters so immediately that their physical deformity is hardly noticeable. Both men are phenomenally good. In understated but touching performances, they manage to suggest separate and distinctive personalities at the same time that they are conveying a bond of such heart-rending intimacy that it is almost impossible to think of one without the other. There is a stillness about Blake and Francis, an absence of overt movement, that stems in the main from their anatomical defect but which is in keeping with their halting shyness. And although they constantly glance at one another and whisper into each other's ear, one senses that they are able to communicate without words.
Like the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, Twin Falls Idaho is very much about the inner tenderness and beauty of its outwardly grotesque protagonists. Through their writing, acting, and direction, Michael Polish and Mark Polish make us forget Blake and Francis's diabolical exterior and see only the souls that exist beneath it.