Three Identical Strangers

Have you ever fantasized that, somewhere out there, there’s another version of you? That one day you’ll turn a corner and come face to face with a long lost twin? The Kafkaesque premise comes to life in Three Identical Strangers, the gripping true story of identical triplets deliberately separated at birth as part of a psychological study. The majority of the events explored in the documentary took place decades earlier, and director Tim Wardle stirringly recreates the dramatic tale using a combination of archival material, stylized reenactments, and interviews.

The story of their separation and serendipitous reunion…was like a real-life fairytale…”

In the early 1970s, triplets Bobby, Eddy, and David were national celebrities. The story of their separation and serendipitous reunion — Bobby and Eddy met when they happened to attend the same community college, and then David recognized himself when he saw their photo in the newspaper — was like a real-life fairytale. The film’s opening reconstructs their heartwarming meeting and the popularity the three young men enjoyed as the media followed them around for several years.

For a brief period, they were America’s sweethearts. But the story takes a sinister turn when the men learn that the adoption agency’s choice to separate the triplet newborns among three different families — one affluent, one middle class, and one working class — was orchestrated as part of an experiment to test the influences of nature versus nurture. The film remains in a moodier realm thereafter, with a series of dramatic reveals and suspenseful twists and turns.

“…heavy ethical questions wisely keep the film from entering full thriller mode.”

It’s a compelling ride. But the film also manages to accumulate a layered look at the nature of brotherhood, parenting, adoption, and above all the power we do or do not have over the mental and emotional tendencies woven into our DNA. Though the ride is thrilling, the heavy ethical questions wisely keep the film from ever entering full thriller mode.

Three Identical Strangers (2018) Directed by Tim Wardle. Featuring Bobby Shafran, Eddy Galland, and David Kellman. Three Identical Strangers played as part of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.

Grade: B+

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