Documentary: “Three Identical Strangers”

Three Identical Strangers PosterThree Identical Strangers (2018)     

Tim Wardle’s “Three Identical Strangers” is a documentary about an incredible true story of three identical brothers (David, Eddie and Robert) who were separated shortly after birth and who then get to know each other for the first time at the age of nineteen through an incredible reunion. However, the documentary is also about much more than this. The incredible reunion of the triplets is just part of the story’s package to amaze. As we see further, after the triplets’ reunion, the documentary delves into the nature/nurture debate, uncovers the previous troubled lives of the separated triplets, and then, finally, presents one shocking revelation. In that vein, the documentary first amazes its viewers, leaving an unforgettable impression, and then profoundly shocks, raising an outrage inside every viewer who has a heart. 

I will probably be biased when reviewing this documentary because I have a twin brother myself and feel strongly about the issues discussed. The great thing about this documentary is that there are both happy, positive aspects to it and negative, sad aspects, with both given equal weight. “If I tell someone my story, they do not believe [me]…and I guess I would not have believed it myself”, starts Robert, one of the twins, in the film’s beginning. Now Robert is fifty-six years old and he recalls the time that he first found out about his identical twin at the age of nineteen. He arrived at the Sullivan County Community College campus for the first time without knowing anyone there, only to be greeted by everyone as though he was their old friend, with slaps on his back, cheers and much enthusiasm. The documentary puts us in the shoes of Robert as he is mistaken for Eddie during his first day at college, and the incredulity of the events to follow just defies the imagination. We really get the sense of the amazement and excitement transmitted when one twin hears the news of another for the first time. If the twins’ reunion was a regional sensational, then the discovery of another triplet rocketed this news to national level. The saying that truth is stranger than fiction is given the whole new different meaning in this documentary. For the first twenty minutes of this documentary, you cannot help but grin throughout – it is both so exciting and bewildering to see the triplets reunited, becoming “famous”, featuring on many TV talk shows, launching their own restaurant in Manhattan called “Triplets” and even being in Madonna’s film. The brothers also discovered upon their reunion that they had many interests and preferences in common, and were virtually best friends from the moment that they had laid eyes on each other.  

Picture Three Identical StrangersThe second part of the documentary is where real life begins. We find out that triplets suffered depression when they were growing up separately from each other and had troubled teenage years. It is all well to bathe in happiness and awe when reunited at the age of nineteen, but that also means that, for nineteen years, the brothers have been separated from each other, and their adoptive families did not even know of each other’s existence. The loss of brotherhood and one-of-a-kind friendship during that time is irreplaceable. The fact that the brothers were separated at six months of age means that they have been aware of each others’ presence and were traumatised even at that age when that bond was broken. An identical brother or sister is the closest person one could get in the world since it is almost a part of oneself, someone who can understand one better than anyone else in the world. Thus, to see that these brothers were cheated out of their birthright to have brothers is very sad and profoundly tragic.

If, after the reunion, the trio of brothers set for Manhattan to rejoice in their newly-found brotherhood and make some money, their respective adoptive families were far from happy at the news of rediscovered brothers. The members of the brothers’ families wanted to demand the answers from the Louise Wise Services adoption agency, which was responsible for the brothers’ placements nineteen years ago. The families wanted to know why the brothers were separated and why neither of the family was told about the existence of the other two families. In that vein, if the documentary started on a personal note, it takes a darker turn near the end when broader societal and organisational issues are discussed, and strange ethical principles and the state of psychology in the 1960s all become prime suspects in the inhumane “crime” committed against the brothers and their adoptive families. It becomes hard to justify anything that the now defunct Louise Wise Services adoption agency did so many years ago and the secrecy surrounding the adoption of the brothers makes the whole case even more mysterious. Through one journalist, we get to know that nothing was as coincidental as it first seemed in the lives of three brothers who were placed in blue-collar, middle class and upper class families respectively, and who, incidentally, had one other child in each respective family – a girl of a particular age.

Powerful, emotional and simply unforgettable, “Three Identical Strangers” strikes a right balance between happiness and sorrow, and judgement and understanding as it unveils this fantastical reality story though the interviews with two brothers, their extended families, as well as with media and institute professionals. The documentary is well paced and intriguing, but the most incredible aspect of it is probably still that the story it tells is true; easily, one of the best documentaries I have seen in a long time.

For my other documentary reviews, check out “Dreams of a Life (2011), “California Typewriter” (2017) and “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail” (2017).

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