Produced by Grace Hughes-Hallet, Becky Read
Executive Produced by Dimitri Doganis,
Amy Entelis, Courtney Sexton,
Sara Ramsden, Tom Barry, Adam Hawkins
Directed by Tim Wardle
Starring Robert Shafran, David Kellman,
“This is, like, Nazi shit.”
When the main focus of a documentary says this you can be sure there is a compelling story about to be told.
With director Tim Wardle’s Three Identical Strangers you actually get two compelling stories for the price of one.
We are presented with the unusual story of identical triplets separated at birth being reunited in 1980 by a series of accidents when they are 19 years old.
Bobby Shafran was just entering college when he was mistaken for some other guy on campus last year named Eddy. Eddy Galland’s friends got them together and their story ran in a New York City newspaper where David Kellman saw the story and contacted the pair.
The unlikely events garnered international attention and the whole world was intrigued by how alike they were after being separated at birth.
But this leads into the second compelling story woven in with the triplets.
All three families were never told the boys were part of an identical set. And all three boys were part of an “adoption study” where people came out every few months and tested and observed they boys. So while the three young men were celebrating and sharing an apartment in New York City, their parents had many questions and much frustration at the adoption agency that placed the babies.
Eventually it comes out that there was a long-term study of twins and triplets by Viola Barnard and Peter Neubauer to test various theories about nature versus nurture. As the lives of the triplets unfold a second quest to find out about the study is pursued. But this quest is hindered at every step as the study was never published an all material about the study was locked away until 2066.
A different set of twins who found each other independently are briefly interviewed in the movie. Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein documented their journey finding each other and investigating the psychological experiments in the book, Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited.
In the end the story tells of a much more complex mix of nature and nurture than the initial reports of remarkable similarities would lead you to believe. The adoptive families of the triplets were very different with a mix of blue-collar and white collar and openly affectionate to distant and disciplinarian. The effect of this upbringing is shown through their interactions as Bobby, Eddy, and David link themselves and their destinies.
By the end of the film you know a great deal about the identical strangers but much less about the study that shaped their lives. The search for answers about the study leads to some “What were they thinking” and “How could they get away with this” moments. But with the major investigators deceased and the data locked away the options are limited.
The filmmakers do a pretty good job getting around these obstacles and provide a very good story that is both encouraging and cautionary.
Three Identical Strangers showed at the Seattle International Film Festival 2018 after having it’s US premiere at Sundance. Since the film was financed through CNN, I would expect it to show there eventually before appearing on streaming services.