Three Identical Strangers (2018) Poster

User Reviews

Review this title
163 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
So Many Questions
boblipton1 July 2018
Warning: Spoilers
It begins in 1980, when a new student at an upstate college is greeted by returning students. How was your summer? Good to see you! He thinks it's weird until one guy stares at him. "Were you adopted? What's your birthday?" It turns out he has an unknown identical twin. When the story hits the newspaper another one pops up. They bond. Everything is wonderful, except that each set of parents is outraged. Why weren't they told? They would have adopted all three!

At this point I was starting to lose interest, as it looked like it was turning into a story about lawsuits and people declaring what they would have done versus a well-meaning charity's understandable policy -- people may want to adopt a baby, but who needs the expense and tsuris of three? However, the story took a turn with a interview with an investigative reporter and a report of identical twins being deliberately separated for cold-blooded study... and by the end the trail had led to a powerful Jewish charity and an archive in Yale that's sealed for almost half a century more.

I'm a great fan of the ability of movies to tell a story, but I have rarely seen a documentary that told such a disturbing, heart-breaking factual story. I thought myself inured to the cruelty of people, but I left the theater asking how could these people, of all people, have thought to have done these things? It's also an investigation into the character of three people, the question of nature versus nurture, and the issue of free will. Quite simply, it's one of the best documentaries I have ever seen.
126 out of 149 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
An excellent film....just try not to watch it on CNN.
planktonrules26 May 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Some years ago, I taught psychology and we invariably did some lectures on ethics in psychological research. We talked about some of the more famous unethical studies, such as the famous Zimbardo prison study or Milgram's study on obedience. However, at the time, "Three Identical Strangers" and the revelations in the film were not available...and it's a shame as it would have been a great study to dissect. With my background, it's not surprising that I was excited to see the film once I learned what it was about and how the ethics of the study were completely lacking. And, so many, many things about the study were completely unethical...but you'll have to learn more about that when you see the documentary.

The story of "Three Identical Strangers" begins when a young 19 year-old arrives at college...only to have many people there recognize him! At first, he thought it was just a very friendly school...but soon it became obvious that the young man had a twin. After all, they were born on the same day, were adopted through the same adoption agency and looked like twins. Little did they realize that they were not a set of twins but two of the three out of a set of triplets. And, when their story made the newspapers, soon they learned there was a third!! Eventually, it turns out the same adoption agency separated several sets of twins and triplets. Why? To make them part of a secret psychological study on genetics. What?? Yes...the families never knew their babies had two other identicals...nor that this was a sick study on genetics and environment!! How bad did it go from here? REALLY, really bad....but I don't want to ruin the film....see for yourself.

So is the film any good? Yes, it's extremely well made, never dull and is well worth seeing. My only quibble has nothing to do with the film itself. My problem was that I saw it when it first aired on CNN...and CNN did a terrible job in showing it. The film was punctated with tons of much that it seemed like a third of the time I was watching, I was watching commercials. So, try to find it elsewhere...such as through Netflix where they don't ruin the film with so many ads.
38 out of 43 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
From happy reunion to events much darker in tone
howard.schumann27 July 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Though the story has been told before, (again recently in the New York Post of June 24th), seeing how three young lives were damaged in the name of scientific research turns the story from an interesting read into a visceral and ultimately heartbreaking experience. Tim Wardle's ("One Killer Punch") investigative documentary Three Identical Strangers traces the lives of triplets, Robert Shafran, Eddy Galland and David Kellman, all born to a teenage girl on July 12, 1961 in Glen Cove, New York. Placed in different homes by the same adoption agency at the age of six months, neither children nor the adopting parents were told about any other family members, only that the children were part of a "routine childhood-development study" which would require periodic visits and testing.

Using archival footage, home movies, interviews, and recreations, the film traces the trajectory of the boys' life from their happy reunion after nineteen years to subsequent events that are much darker in tone. The boys discovered that they were members of a family of triplets almost by accident. When Robert began his freshman year at Sullivan County Community College, he was repeatedly mistaken for Eddy (who had previously attended the school) and who he soon learned was the twin brother he had never known.

The story of the reunion of the long lost siblings received wide attention in the newspapers and was spotted by David, the third brother, a student at Queens College, and the three were reunited in a tale so amazing that Shafran is quoted as saying, "I wouldn't believe it if someone else was telling it." The happy reunion becomes fodder for media talk shows as the three are interviewed by Phil Donahue, Tom Brokaw and others and display an abundance of charm and sincerity. Without mentioning any possible differences that might exist, they talk about all the things they have in common.

Posing in the same position on stage, they tell us that each of their families had an older sister, they all wrestled in high school, they all like the same color, smoke the same cigarettes (here's a nod to Marlboro), like the same type of women, and, presumably enjoy the same kind of fawning publicity. The rush of fame soon becomes a crescendo and the brothers even make a cameo appearance in the movie "Desperately Seeking Susan." With David and Robert providing the narration and with non-stop pop songs in the background, we follow their lives as they move in together and open a successful restaurant in Soho appropriately called "Triplets."

After a period of time, however, a family dispute, the nature of which is undisclosed in the film, ends in Robert leaving the restaurant and moving out. Little by little, disturbing events surface. As Bob Dylan's song goes, "It's not dark yet, but it's getting there." As told by journalist Lawrence Wright, the reporter who broke the story, we learn that all three brothers had emotional problems. Kellman and Galland had spent time in a psychiatric hospital and Shafran was on probation after having pleaded guilty to charges connected to a robbery. We also learn about Dr. Peter Neubauer, a highly regarded psychologist and Holocaust survivor who ran the research study, the Louise Wise adoption agency, and the Jewish Board of Family and Children's Services, all who played a role in the events surrounding the triplet's lives.

Wardle also includes the story of two other twins, sisters separated at birth by the same adoption agency. While there are important events described in the film that are best left for the viewer to discover, needless to say, they are very disturbing. Although some of the film's conclusions are little more than speculation and there are many things that are still not known (records are sealed until 2066), what we do know is enough to shake our faith in any scientific research divorced from considerations of humanity.
36 out of 45 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Three Identical Strangers (2018)
rockman1821 July 2018
Normally, I'm not super into documentaries unless the subject matter is something I have a heightened interest in. I watched Won't You Be My Neighbor? earlier this year and thought it was actually excellent. So was hoping for a similar type of reaction with Three Identical Strangers. The trailer did a job of garnering interest because it seemed like a rather incredible set of circumstances. Overall, this documentary absolutely delivers, and is surprisingly quite dark.

The film is about the real life events of three men finding each other and realizing that they are in fact identical triplets. What's more crazy, is the fact that each of them have the same mannerisms and many of the same tastes in everything. Of course, questions arose as to why the triplets were separated at birth and not adopted together. The dark secrets of the adoption center are revealed in this documentary and questions arise as to the ethical nature as to what happened to these triplets.

From beginning to closing credits, this is an enthralling story. I have never even heard about this case, despite the brothers being located in New York. Its super hard to talk about the film without the twist that comes halfway through the film. It actually is crazy and makes you consider how dark and twisted human nature can be when they feel their actions is considered important and necessary. Its super hard not to talk about it, all I can say is you need to see this film.

Its a film about an event that is extremely joyous in the beginning. But as the film goes on you realize that the lives of these separated triplets is marred by tragedy and controversy. Its a documentary that will get you to think and wonder and talk. Its an important film for its social context and its psychology. There are some good stuff out this summer and this is something I hope people see.

59 out of 76 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Absolutely great but a little bit manipulative..
jumanhasan-7799927 August 2020
Warning: Spoilers
I loved the documentry like everyone else, I thought it was moving, interesting and all.

However, I didn't like the way the producers presented Eddie's father's charecter at the end of the film as somehow the reason for his suicide.. I know they tried to brush the idea off by having David state that it was not the father's fault, but it was too late by then since they had already spent 10 minutes trying to link the strict upbringing he recieved with his mental illness.

It was abvious by that point that all of these kids had a history of mental illness even though they all had different household. It might be hereditary or something, sure a tough parenting can make it worse.. but no family member or a friend should fall into the rabbit hole of self-blame because of an unfortunate event.. And I really hated how they somehow obtained a confession out of that old -possibly lonely- man that this might be his fault..
67 out of 73 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Brilliant - proof positive of that old adage that real life is stranger than fiction
michaeljtrubic27 April 2018
Incredible well constructed and very well written, beautifully paced and staged. Honest heart moving testimonials underlined with stunning analysis and shocking revelations.

One of those documentaries that very carefully balances the emotional temperatures of the subjects discussed.

Very honest directing and as perfect an editing job as I can imagine.

These guys are at the top or their profession.

Thank you both the director and editor for coming to Hot Docs 2018
94 out of 120 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
An emotional roller-coaster with some questions left lingering
gortx13 July 2018
Stories about Twins (and other pairs of siblings) separated at birth aren't all that uncommon - but, triplets? Director Tim Wardle takes that rare occurrence and runs with it in the breathless and highly entertaining first section of his Documentary THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS. Wardle also cleverly edits his footage (including the interviews) in order to preserve as many surprises about the secrets and lies to come later in the movie. Some might argue that Wardle's technique is a bit of cheat, but, for those who enter without knowing the full story it enhances the viewing, even if it does cause some issues later on.

The story is told quite sequentially, and, again, that is in service of providing more drama as the Doc unfolds. Because the events go back to the 60s, many of the participants aren't around any longer to speak for themselves. Still, Wardle and his team managed to assemble a good cross-section of survivors to go on the record. Because the story was such a cause celebre in the early 80s (and in the NYC area to boot) we are also able to see a decent amount of historical footage of the triplets and their rise to fame including trips to the Today show, Donahue and a brief cameo in Susan Seidelman's DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN (supposedly at the behest of star Madonna). Some fairly minor dramatic re-enactments are also employed, and aren't distracting (Wardle also maintains the proper aspect ratio in much of the vintage footage - to his credit).

As the true tale turns darker, a few issues with the filmmaking arrive. I won't delve into spoilers (I avoided them myself in order for the Doc to have maximum impact), but, the old Nurture vs. Nature debate becomes a key point of contention - as it does with all of these 'separated at birth' cases. Because of the way Wardle structures his editing, we mostly get the 'Nature' perspective until very late in the process. Further, a major cache of evidence is dropped in at the very last moment, and isn't sufficiently analyzed. It's understood that after five years in the making, Wardle, Raw, Neon and other production entities wanted to get their movie done and released, but one can't help but feel the editing was wrapped up in order to get a prized Sundance Film Festival spot. Wardle also includes a couple of curious montages repeating what we've seen earlier as if he had an eye on TV showings (CNN is set to show it). But, these problems pale compared to Wardle's casting a light on some highly unethical behavior that effected the triplets' lives.

These relatively minor issues aside, THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS again shows why there is a bit of Documentary boom going on. In a cinema dominated by Superhero and Animated flicks, there is a yearning among some adults for movies of substance and reality. STRANGERS is a true emotional roller-coaster.
23 out of 31 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Interesting and reasonably well-made, but morally questionable in how it presents some of the material
Bertaut11 December 2018
What is the primary factor in making us who we are? Were the truly great figures of pure evil - Elizabeth Báthory, Adolf Hitler, Harold Shipman, Peter Scully, Adam Sandler - always destined to become who they became, or are there to be found moments and influences in their environment which turned them into the monsters with whom we're familiar? Is our destiny genetically encoded at the moment of our conception? Does biological determinism supersede free will? In short, it's the age-old question of nature vs. nurture. Focused on precisely these questions, twin studies involve researching twins to so as to compare and contrast the importance of genetic factors against environmental factors. When most people hear the term "twin studies", they probably think of Josef Mengele's sickening experiments in Auschwitz; however, these experiments were inhuman and not even remotely typical of scientifically approved twin studies, which are an accepted, if somewhat controversial, attempt to determine the etiology of differential psychologies in individuals who are genetically similar.

And these are the murky waters charted by director Tim Wardle's Three Identical Strangers, presenting a bizarre stranger-than-fiction story, which begins as a light-hearted human-interest piece before taking several darker turns. However, for me, although the fascinating central story is undoubtedly gripping, there are just too many egregious problems in the telling, including an excess of distasteful sensationalism; a dearth of contextualising scientific information; overly simplistic ethical, moral, philosophical, and esoteric conclusions; stylistic drabness; and, an overreliance on plot twists, which often forces the filmmakers to manipulate the material beyond what you would expect of a documentary.

The film tells the story of Bobby Shafran, Eddy Gallan, and David Kellman, three young men in New York, who, through luck and coincidence learn they are triplets who had been separated as babies. Upon meeting, they quickly bond, move into an apartment together, and open a restaurant in New York, Triplets Roumanian Steak House. Becoming minor celebrities, they appear on talk shows across the country and have a cameo in Desperately Seeking Susan (1985). However, they and their families are puzzled as to why they had been separated, and why their adoptive parents had not been told they were triplets. Was it a coincidence that Bobby had been placed with an affluent family, Eddy with a middle-class family, and David with a blue-collar family? Did the regular aptitude and psychological tests they received as children, part of what their parents were told was a "routine childhood-development study", have anything to do with their separation? What was the involvement of one of the country's largest social service agencies, the Jewish Board of Family and Children's Services? How much did New York's most preeminent Jewish adoption agency, Louise Wise Services, know? How was Dr. Peter B. Neubauer of the Jewish Board's Child Development Centre in Manhattan involved? How did the triplets' birth mother fit into what happened? As they begin to investigate, they soon stumble upon a series of shocking secrets that would change their lives, and the lives of many others, forever.

A noticeable structural element concerns what Wardle and editor Michael Harte referred to at a Q&A after a screening in Dublin as a "past tense" and a "present tense". The past tense section covers roughly the first half of the film, running up to the end of the first round of interviews, which were conducted from 2011-2015. The present tense section then picks up in 2016. The transition between the two is pretty obvious, but it's worth mentioning as it's not something you usually see in a documentary. Half-way through the film, Wardle thanks Bobby and David, who are being interviewed separately, and they say goodbye, get up, and leave the room. It's very unusual to see a documentary film drawing attention to its own artifice in this manner - the furthest most will go will be to include the interviewer's voice, but even that is relatively rare. By featuring a scene like this, especially so early in the film, Wardle and Harte are alerting the audience to the fact that something has changed, and from here on out, things are going to be in a different register.

The film has two major themes; morality/ethics and nature vs. nurture. In terms of morality, Wardle has referred to the scientists behind splitting the triplets up as succumbing to "noble cause corruption", arguing that they probably set out to accomplish something laudable, but were not above using unethical means to do so. It does, however, seem strange that when examining the morality of what was done to the brothers, Wardle makes no mention of David Reimer, a male who was reassigned as a girl in 1965 when he was only a few months old and raised female, based upon dishonest advice given to his parents by psychologist John Money, who was attempting to prove that gender identity is learned. As there are a lot of parallels between the brothers' stories and Reimer's, and between Neubauer and Money, including a reference or two would have helped contextualise things.

As to the question of nature vs. nurture, initially, events seem to point very much to nature - the brothers all smoked the same brand of cigarettes; they had all been amateur wrestlers; they had the same taste in women; they had similar speech patterns. The media at the time ate this up, with their appearances on talk shows designed to leave the audience stunned at their similarities. However, as the documentary goes on, the argument shifts, with the brothers themselves admitting they emphasised their similarities at the time, and the media was more than happy to ignore any differences, leading to what was apparently a clear win for biological determinism. As time went on, their differences began coming to the surface, and ultimately, the documentary very much argues in favour of nurture.

However, how it goes about establishing this argument is extremely questionable, with Wardle sliding more and more into sensationalism. So intent is he on controlling our perceptions that he leaves out a massive piece of information until such time as he deems it pertinent to reveal, and when he does so, he explicitly tells us what to think about it, pushing us to one specific response, when the event cries out for a more ambiguous presentation. It's difficult to go into any of this without straying into spoilers, so consider the rest of this paragraph a spoiler. Essentially, Wardle paints the suicide of one of the brothers as unquestionably the result of his adopted father's harsh disciplinarian parenting, a father who is still alive, and who appears in the film. Wardle and Harte do this by cutting from a clip of that father wondering if he had a role in the suicide to one of the other brothers basically saying, to paraphrase, "I'm still alive because my parents weren't as strict as his." Blaming his death entirely on parenting in this manner is facile, grossly overly simplistic, and offensive. In fact, the way Wardle handles the suicide in general is deplorable, teasing it and teasing it, before gleefully revealing it for maximum tabloid-esque shock value. The sense of Wardle manipulating the material isn't helped by the fact that the absence of the third brother from the talking head interviews tips off the audience from the get-go as to where the story is heading. Why not just state it right up front, cutting back on the silly twist element of the narrative? It's not like people would get up and walk out upon seeing a "spoiler" like that at the outset.

There are other problems, however. Aesthetically, the documentary is drab and dull, almost lifeless. With nothing cinematic about it whatsoever, it could easily be a report from a TV news magazine show, designed for maximum exposure rather than artistic inventiveness. The recreations are bland, and the talking head interviews are flat. Additionally, twin studies are a recognised and accepted scientific practice, but Wardle is so intent on making sure we are appalled at what happened to the brothers that he provides almost no context whatsoever. If he had spent less time trying to steer the viewers' emotions and more in providing a broader theoretical framework, the film would have worked much better, allowing the audience to find their own position in relation to what was done rather than simply following the director's lead. He also ignores a great deal of potentially interesting material. For example, why did their restaurant fail? Indeed, we never really get any sense of what the brothers' day-to-day life was like after they found each other. When they moved in together, how did that feel, for example? It's as if he doesn't want to dig too deep into anything just in case he finds something that might not fit into the grand narrative he's constructing.

The story of Three Identical Strangers poses fascinating questions about nature vs. nurture and the morality of certain types of research, but the film is so intent on the "nurture" answer that Wardle's subjective opinion comes across far more than it ought. More interested in driving home the shock value of some of the events than providing a penetrating documentary about free will vs biological determinism, there is little here that a reader wouldn't be able to find on Google. Given the outrageousness of the material, that Wardle has made such a conventional film is disappointing. It's an interesting enough piece, but that's more to do with the fascinating subject than the presentation.
138 out of 201 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Let's initiate our own study and put the researchers in different prisons for 18 years and study these a##holes
Ed-Shullivan30 January 2019
Warning: Spoilers
I cannot believe how sick these researchers from the Jewish child development center must have been to seperate these three identical triplet boys from birth and study their different upbringings by a blue collar family, a middle class family, and an upper class family for the next 18 years between 1961 and 1979. At the age of 18 the triplets found each other by accident and so the study was abruptly stopped. The records have been sealed until the year 2066 which means the boys would have to be 105 years old before they could find out what the researchers had documented about their different upbringings in differing social status environments.

Researches eventually used words to describe their research as "ethically compromised' and "nature versus nurture" but I myself would use the single word descriptor of "WRONG" this research was simply just wrong to play with people's lives as if these three triplet babies being seperated at birth could ever lead to a better life than if the three boys were raised in the same household.

I recommend any researcher that was even remotely involved in this sick research study and design should be locked up in seperate prisons for the next 18 years so that the triplets could study "THEM" to see what differences the researchers would be exposed to as they were pulled away from their own respective families. It's not only astonishing but also ironic that it was Jewish researchers that would subject these three Jewish triplets to such a torture of seperating the boys at birth just to study them as the boys would later say as "lab rats".
17 out of 23 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
"Strange days have found us, And through their strange hours, We linger alone."
morrison-dylan-fan1 October 2021
Warning: Spoilers
Recently having viewed the superb documentary The Last Forest (2021-also reviewed) at the WOW Film Festival,I decided to look for other docs to watch. Being a title which has sat in my "To watch" pile for years,I decided it was time to finally say, hello stranger.

View on the film:

Reuniting the three brothers with a extensive gathering of archive footage, director Tim Wardle & editor Michael Harte lay out the background to the events about to be unveiled with reconstruction sequences being mixed with real photos and well chosen moments of songs on the soundtrack, which sketches out the three differing households that the brothers lived in.

Investigating a subject that has no tidy conclusion, with each gripping Thriller-style from the interviews with the brothers widening the revelations about them and their families being secretly studied by psychologists during childhood, Wardle grasps for an ending, by (without offering hard evidence to back up the claim) nudging via overlapping narration and archive photos,that the parenting skills of Elliott Galland (who clearly still deeply misses his son) are to blame for the death of his son Eddie.

The blunt attempt at framing sadly leaves a distasteful taste to the ending,and dents leave the standard impression, on the documentary/ journalism that had been displayed earlier,in revealing the strangers.
4 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
As a mother of twins
moveebuff195320 October 2018
Warning: Spoilers
As a mother of twins this story was heartbreaking for me to watch. I feel that three babies were cheated out of developing that special bond that so many siblings have. They were deprived of interacting as babies, toddlers, school aged children who most likely would have had a very different life experience. I could feel their pain even though they smiled for the cameras. They were never given the chance just to be a family together. They were basically lab rats used for a scientific study that will not be published until they are all dead. This should never have been allowed and is disgusts me that these three boys were kept apart. The pain and anguish they have suffered since discovering each other is unconscionable. I wish the surviving brothers peace and comfort for their remaining lives.
29 out of 36 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Fascinating story, flawed documentary
gbill-7487716 December 2019
Touching as a human interest story, as well as a fascinating case study in the age-old nature vs. nurture argument, at least in theory. What the lead scientist, Peter Neubauer, and the Louise Wise adoption agency did to these people and the unknown others who were part of their study was horrifying. The film starts off strong as it tells the truly improbable tale of these guys finding each other, and how their lives changed in an instant. Unfortunately, even as I wondered why Phil Donahue and others from the talk shows in 1980 didn't ask insightful questions, gradually I realized the documentary itself was often lacking the same way. Worse yet, it handles the heartbreaking suicide of one of the triplets poorly, wringing every bit of emotion out of it almost like a tabloid, and then makes an enormous leap in attributing it to parental upbringing. Without a doubt it's a factor, but it's far more complicated than that, but the documentary doesn't bother to have experts comment. Still interesting though, and hard to fathom this actually having happened.
7 out of 9 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
briancham19942 June 2020
This documentary follows a set of identical triplets during their journey to discover each other and their circumstances. In truth, monozygotic sibling studies are not rare in psychology but there is usually a more rigorous ethics committee involved. It was a fascinating personal story that got more and more strange.
3 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A superior documentary
proud_luddite21 September 2018
On July 12, 1961 in Glen Oaks, New York: Robert Shafran, Eddie Galland, and Robert Kellman were born as identical triplets to a single mother and later adopted in different families. This documentary chronicles their story which includes their eventual reunion and beyond.

This is one of those documentaries which reinforces the belief that truth is stranger than fiction. It can also join superior documentaries like "Bus 174" (2002 - Brazil) and "Tower" (2016 - USA) as non-fiction films that end up as mysterious thrillers for audiences who are unaware of the events exposed in each film. An odd twist about "Strangers" though, is that some information remains incomplete by the end - this is no fault by any means of the filmmakers who do a superb job. Without giving anything away, there is a perverse reason that so much information is denied to the viewer and to the many involved in this bizarre story.

Some movies finish with happy endings. This one starts with a happy beginning. There is much joy in the reunion and the enormous ripple effect this causes. Once the thrill starts to settle down, the young men naturally want to learn more about their birth and adoption circumstances. What they learn turns the film into a sinister mystery.

Once all the talking heads are introduced within the first twenty minutes or so, a keen observer will notice that another mystery is yet to unfold as the film chronologically reveals the lives of the triplets. Once the mystery is revealed, the emotional impact is stunning.

As if this film isn't rich enough, it even digs into issues of class. Each boy grew up in different circumstances from each other. This further fuels the debate of nature vs nurture. One thing though is not debatable: "Three Identical Strangers" is one of the most fascinating documentaries ever. Not since the Dionne quintuplets were born in 1934 has there been such a fascinating story of identical siblings from a multiple birth. - dbamateurcritic
19 out of 30 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
One of the best documentaries and thrillers of the year.
jdesando16 July 2018
Three Identical Strangers is a documentary to die for: it has camera-ready, outgoing triplet brothers, who discover each other 19 years after birth (1980), become media darlings, and provide filmmaker Tim Wardle with one of the best thrillers of the year. Read this review but not those that will disclose the mysterious underpinnings of one of the best docs this year.

Yes, things do not all turn well after the initial exaltation over their finding each other. The doc expertly distributes the dark revelations as if we were their friends slowly learning astonishing facts about the triplets from separation to owning a restaurant called, what else, Triplets. Not only do we see the nuances of differences among the triplets, but we also get tantalizing looks into the machinery of adoption, not all happy to be sure.

As adults, Robert Sheridan, David Kellman, and Eddy Galland are outgoing and articulate (only two are talking heads, while Eddy's part is archival footage). Good for director Wardle letting them tell the story without prompting, for effective docs mostly let the camera roll and the subject talk. This doc will grab you and not let you go-you'll hunger for more.

As the background of the adoption and the testimony reveals startling information, our natural inclination is to contrast the three different social backgrounds to see the effects of nature vs. nurture. Indeed social scientists are here plying their trade, sometimes in unethical ways yet food for the thriller part of this engrossing film.

Although the nature/nurture debate is never fully deconstructed, I was pleased with the taste of it, as most social scientists must be in such a delicious dramatic stew. I'm done writing for fear of spoiling one of the delights of this documentary: What comes next?

Don't even Google because you can find the details there. Most desirable is to witness how artfully through excellent film you can find in reality that truth can be stranger than fiction. And definitely not fake.

Three Identical Strangers is one of the year's best documentaries. It has it all but the definitive answer to the central mystery. Learn more by seeing it, not Googling it.
16 out of 28 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Fascinating real-life tale of triplets separated at birth, reunited and then separated by tragedy
Turfseer4 October 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Once in a while a documentary will be released that features an incredibly original story that will grip you from the outset. Such is the case with Three Identical Strangers, Tom Wardle's fascinating but tragic tale of triplets separated at birth. If you haven't seen it, read this review afterward, as I intend to discuss some of the primary twists and turns in the real-life plot.

It begins as a feel good story which can be likened to the birth of the Beatles. It's 1980 and we meet Bobby Shafran, son of a physician, who drives up in his beat up Volvo to attend his first semester at Sullivan County Community College in upstate New York. When he arrives on campus, he's greeted by numerous people who seem to already know him-even though this is Bobby's first day at school.

Soon it becomes clear that Bobby is mistaken for another kid who looks exactly like him with the same date of birth named Eddy Galland, who attended the school a semester before. An acquaintance of Eddy puts two and two together and realizes Eddy is Bobby's twin. He drives Bobby down to Long Island where Eddy and Bobby meet each other for the first time. They instantly bond and the story makes the NY papers.

But the story doesn't end there. Relatives of a third kid, David Kelland, recognize that he too resembles the two "twins." David also has the same birthday as the others and before you know it, the three are reunited as long lost triplets. The three together are utterly charming and appear on the talk show circuit, where common foibles are highlighted (they all smoke Marlboros and have the same taste in women!). Archival footage from that time reveal the triplets becoming fast celebrities and when they're a few years older, they open a restaurant together in New York City.

The story suddenly grows dark. It turns out that the triplets were placed by the (now defunct) Louise Wise Services, which specialized in placing unwanted Jewish infants in new homes. The triplets were actually the subject of a secret experiment conducted by a noted psychiatrist, Peter Neubauer who was attempting to explore the old "nature versus nurture" argument. Unbeknownst to the triplets, each was placed in homes of a different socio-economical class (Bobby was from an upper middle class home, Eddy from middle class parents and David placed with a lower class family).

Much is made of the seemingly insidious decision by Dr. Neubauer to conduct the experiment, which is likened to a Nazi-like mentality. Ironically, Neubauer was a Holocaust survivor, and according to one of the young assistants involved with Neubauer's original team, such experiments were not considered morally repugnant at the time (as they are now). Apparently a psychological study such as this one was highly regarded as it was justified in the name of and under the rubric of "scientific study." Before his death in 2008, Neubauer was reached by a investigative journalist featured in the film and predictably declined to discuss his involvement in the project.

It wasn't surprising that the triplets' relationship eventually soured after one of them decided to leave the restaurant business. Family members confirmed early problems with the triplets as infants-they all reacted badly to the separation anxiety and displayed various emotional problems. Like the Beatles at the time of their breakup, the brothers' differences eventually rose to the surface.

Despite the hereditary influence, it was the triplets' nurturance that eventually led to their breakup. Of all the fathers, Eddy's was regarded as the strictest but certainly he cannot be blamed for what eventually happened to his son who began displaying symptoms of manic-depression. One day, in the film's most dramatic and tragic moment, Eddy committed suicide at his home. Eddy was perhaps the most sensitive of the three but eventually I think it was a problem with "body chemistry" that led to the dark moods that caused him to take his life.

If the documentary has a weakness, it's in the second half, when a good deal of the archival footage is repeated to highlight the "end" of the "good times." I also wanted to know what the surviving triplets were doing in more recent times.

This is a fascinating story that should not be missed by documentary aficionados.
12 out of 19 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
An Amazing Story, The Documentary A Little Shaky And Manipulative
MogwaiMovieReviews30 September 2018
Warning: Spoilers
The top reviews here give a good report on what is moving, exciting and thought-provoking about this documentary, so I will instead briefly focus on some of the shortcomings.

The set-up of the tale is very good, and the excitement of the brothers discovering each of them exists is most compelling, but once they introduce the idea that something more is going on, there's a feeling that they are inflating with movie techniques a story that is not as shocking or sinister or conspiratorial as they are hoping to make it appear. It's clear they are trying for a similar rug-pull effect as used in 'The Jinx' and other recent crime documentaries, but those tools feel a little out of place with the actual material at hand. A more sober discussion of the pluses and minuses of the morality of research carried out on human beings might have been more fitting.

The other big gripe is the heavy handed message at the end of the film, presented cinematically as some big reveal, that it is nurture, not nature, that shapes our lives, even though this goes completely against ALL of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary we've watched for the previous 90 minutes.

It's really quite hard to figure out why this was inserted here: if one of three triplets kills himself, that doesn't mean the thousand other eerie similarities all three share are suddenly discounted or explained away. If they'd simply said 'obviously it's a bit of both', that would have been one thing, but the blank statement being presented as the final conclusion of what we've just seen really weakens the film, and our trust in its makers.

The overall impression is that the filmakers didn't really know where the story was going to go, and that it didn't wind up where they thought it would. Other than that it was an interesting story to find out about and another solid addition to the growing body of notable 21st century docs.
49 out of 84 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
The ethics of the pursuit of knowledge.
etspettroll5 December 2018
What starts off as a light-hearted story of seeming coincidence slowly takes an meandering twist into darkness. I'm interested in original, well told stories and this one is exception. I find it amazing the lengths people will go to in the name of science, the trouble is, those people tend to lack certain human qualities and as a result people often end up suffering greatly on the basis of their decisions.

Ultimately, I think the testament of a great, well told story is that it leaves you asking yourself big questions. The subject matter of the film leaves you wondering that, but the ethics behind it does not make it right and it just amazes me that it was ever allowed to happen and who was ultimately accountable for that.
18 out of 23 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Brilliant yet disturbing
literarynut9 June 2019
Warning: Spoilers
A film about multiples adopted out to seperate families & lied to about the existence of their own identical siblings in the name of research. All the children discussed in this documentary, not just the titular triplets, were treated as lab rats by a man (a prominent psychologist!) who ABSOLUTELY should have known better. The hypothesis and parameters of his study have never been published, nor have the results which simply compounds the disgusting & unconscionable behaviour towards these people & their adoptive families. How is the US Government not demanding the release of this study on the grounds of humanitarianism & public interest? Well done to the film makers for bringing this terrible deed into the public eye. I wish all the best to the every remaining family member unfortunate enough to have been an unwittingly participant in this very sad tale.
19 out of 22 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
One better
bevo-136787 July 2020
Great movie about triplets. Way better than the one with arnie and Danny Devito. They were only twins.
9 out of 16 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Half-baked: This documentary more confounds than it illuminates
dnw-3719 October 2018
Good first half, got me emotionally vested (It is a fascinating story). But then the narrative veers off on tangents, none of which are thoroughly or thoughtfully presented:

First, if you raise the issue of ethics of twin studies, give us a fuller picture. There are hundreds if not thousands of twin studies that are scientifically and ethically sound. (Without them it would be really hard to answer the Nature vs Nurture question).

Second, what makes you (the filmmakers) expert on N vs N based on one case? If you want to raise that topic why not interview some experts in the field: geneticists, evolutionary psychologists & biologists?

Actually, the twin studies (not this one obviously) have already settled the N vs.N question; it's just that the public has not yet caught up. A better documentary would not only pull on the heart-strings but it would also educate and illuminate the mind.
40 out of 66 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
dogmaticdogs2 September 2018
This movie was great. The first half was light-hearted and funny, and made you think the director was leaning a certain way as to its message. The second half took a totally different direction and became dark, sad and somewhat ambiguous. It had me thinking for days, which is a sign of a great movie. My friend literally broke down in the car crying afterwards. It's a journey into the bond between twins, mental health issues and scientific ethical boundaries.
20 out of 30 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
The Trailer Tells It All
truemythmedia19 August 2019
Warning: Spoilers
When I saw the trailer for this film, I was really intrigued. I thought that it could be a really interesting story with a lot of human interest elements. I mean, as a filmmaker I can only imagine how quickly I would jump at a story like this. Of course, I would want to make a documentary about this.

Even as I watched the film, I enjoyed the first act as we met the brothers and heard about what their lives became after they discovered each other. It was a lot of fun to see them making the rounds on TV talk shows and the club scene.

Then the meat of the story comes in. The brothers and the parents try to tack down why the kids were separated and who was behind it. Was it the doctors? The parents? The Government? Holy cow. You wouldn't believe where the story goes. It twists and turns and just when you think you know why they did it, the rug gets pulled out from under you.

At least, that's what I wish I could say about the story. Unfortunately, while there are some twists, the movie is fairly predictable. In fact, I would say that if you saw the trailer, you really saw all you need to see of this story. The trailer tells you that they were separated by someone who didn't care that they were playing with human lives, but when the movie shows you how it happened and why, it's all pretty underwhelming.

In the end, that's how the whole film feels.
10 out of 18 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
I kept struggling to stay awake.
Top_Dawg_Critic13 March 2020
This docu-film was at least 36 min too long. This should've been a half hour - 1 hour maximum TV documentary. Way too much irrelevant fluff overshadowing key points in the documentary. I honestly kept struggling to stay awake. A generous 5/10 from me
9 out of 17 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Nature, nurture and scientific ethics
paul2001sw-113 April 2019
It shouldnt be controversial to state that scientific studies should only be carried out with the informed consent of their human participants; and with regard to those participants' interests. But in New York in the 1960s, identical twins and triplets up for adoption were separated, and assigned to families, not with regard to their welfare, but to allow them to be (secretly) observed in a nature vs nurture study. In the most famous case, three such brothers later found each other by chance, and briefly became minor celebreties; but one of the trio subsequently committed suicide, and the question of whether the study damaged him is an obvious one to ask. 'Three Identical Strangers' tells their story (and briefly, the story of another pair) and it's mostly a fascinating film as well as a telling reminder of why scientifc ethics are important. I'd knock one point off, however, for its ending, which draws the conclusion that genes aren't everything from the fact that two of the brothers are still alive. But this is a straw man, and I don't think this story of scientifc misconduct needs to end in an unsupported paeon to free will and personal responsibility. Whatever the role of nature and nurture in making us who we are, wrong was done here; but it's a compelling, strange story nonetheless.
3 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
An error has occured. Please try again.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews

Recently Viewed