Fifty-seven years ago, triplets were separated at birth. Three Identical Strangers, Tim Wardle's powerful new documentary, tells their tragic yet poignant story. Here's why you should stop what you are doing and go see it now.
It's 1980 in New York and Bobby Shafran has landed at college. When he arrives on campus, though, people (and I mean many people) seem to recognize him. It's not a coincidence--or is it? They call him "Eddy" and not Bobby. He is confused, and a friend explains to him that a person, his double so to speak, went to college last year there. A phone call and a road trip reveals that Eddy Galland is in fact Bobby's twin brother.
However, as former Newsday journalist Howard Schneider would point out, the story was about to move from amazing to incredible. David Kellner sees the story about twins finding each other at 19 years old in the paper and a friend informs him that these two guys must be his double as well. David can't believe it. He has found his brothers. Triplets meeting for the first time at 19 years of age. Incredible indeed.
In an interview with Tom Brokaw, it is revealed that the brothers have a lot of similarities, ranging from an adoration for the same cigarette, a similar taste in women, and a fling with high school wrestling. The public can't get enough of these three guys. A story that is equal parts heartwarming and inspiring.
Unfortunately, that's not even half the story. Once the triplets come together and as Bobby eloquently puts it, "fall in love with each other", the media storm triggers an investigation into their past and why exactly they were separated at birth. The adoptive parents, along acclaimed author Lawrence Wright (who wrote the mesmerizing 9/11 novel, The Looming Tower) start digging into the adoption agency that set up the splitting of the boys and the reasoning behind it.
That's where things get twisted and murky. Without giving too much away, the secrets behind their separation at birth is Hitchcockian-level weird and pulled from the Greek tragedy variety. Quite frankly, it's sad and reveals another layer of shock about the lengths gifted minds will go to in order to get answers about a human condition. I'd be lying if I told you this film won't make you mad. But that is the point of it and why Wardle took such a deep dive with it.
What starts out as a standard documentary with interviews from Bobby and David as well as other members of the family transforms into an edgy thriller that grows cinematically twisted as the running time climbs. Describing it to someone will make them think you are breaking down a wonderful movie idea. Something so intriguing and thought-provoking that it must be a movie, only it's real life.
Look, I see a lot of movies. Too many. There are movies that I like and others that I think are quite great. Sometimes, you see a film and merely find that it did the job extremely well. Then, there are movies that change your entire week and make you take an unexpected late-night drive, working things out in your head over a dark road and cup of coffee. Movies that reach inside your heart, push it around and reboot it, evoking a powerful reaction. Films that make you want to urge everyone you know-and don't know-to stop what they are doing and watching something incredible. Something they can't find anywhere else and defies one's particular taste in cinema.
Three Identical Strangers is the latter. Calling this film powerful is like saying a double-barreled whiskey will make you drunk. A gross understatement that requires more time and explanation. This movie moved me to tears, triggered my jaw dropping to the floor multiple times, and had me questioning everything I knew about genes, DNA, and how nature can take its best shot at making you a certain way, but the amount of nurture always defines the identity of a soul. I drove for a long time thinking about this movie. You will too.
Hearing Bobby and David talk about meeting at 19 and trying to form a relationship that carries endless amounts of scar tissue is poignant and sad at the same time. Seeing the families diligently battle for the rights to the findings from doctors or answers from the adoption agencies will make your stomach flip on its side, but it just glues you to the screen more permanently. There were several times during my viewing of this film that I paused to re-watch a particular answer or moment just to feel the weight of those words hit me again.
You won't find a more powerful documentary this year, with no offense to the fine work done on Fred Rodgers and Whitney Houston. This one asks the hard questions about the ties that bond between genetics and our life experiences without coming off as preachy or self-indulgent. What shapes our lives and the endless battle between nature and nurture determining one's future actions and goals. I was constantly moved by what I saw on screen. Documentaries should be like a great book you find at the bottom of a pile of expensive magazines-but Three Identical Strangers was something else. It will challenge you in unexpected ways.
The best thing about the movie is its appeal. If you aren't a big Dwayne Johnson fan, Skyscraper won't change your mind. If you aren't a Marvel fan, Ant Man and the Wasp won't change that. Everybody has a taste in film that draws their interest in the movies. This documentary should appeal to anyone with an open mind and a heart. 99% of the living world will find this story interesting to some degree. Everyone should know about it. Three Identical Strangers reminded me Searching for Sugar Man, another documentary that played out like a mystery thriller, revealing parts of the central subject's story one piece at a time, keeping you on edge.
What happened to the brothers at birth? That question is almost as important as the "why" behind it, and even more evocative is the long-term effect. Schneider was right. It is amazing and incredible-but it's also something else.
Three Identical Strangers is one of the best movies I've seen in a long time. It's a film I feel like parading in the streets for. Go see it. Take the plunge. Pay the man. It is playing at the Tivoli and Plaza Frontenac: small intimate theaters that are perfect for this tale.
Fifty-seven years ago, something amazing and terrible happened. The juice behind a story, though, is always the why. Find out this weekend. The laundry, dishes, and yard work can wait.