Title: Three Identical Strangers
Director: Tim Wardle
Music: Paul Saunderson
Cinematography: Tim Cragg
Tim Wardle’s engrossing documentary tantalizingly promises audience to unearth the truth behind its newsworthy vintage hoopla of three Jewish identical triplets, separated by birth, serendipitously reunite after 19 years in 1980 when two of them are matriculated in the same college, but a conspiracy theory looms over their initial adoption polices, all issued by the defunct Louise Wise Services agency, and slowly, the film traces back to a nurture vs. nature twin study initiated by the late Dr. Peter Neubauer, a renowned child psychiatrist.
Those three triplets, Robert Shafran, Edward Galland and David Kellman, each has been selected by Dr. Neubaurer’s research team to grow up in a foster home of different economic tiers, accordingly, blue-collar, middle class and upper class, with regular visits to film and record their behavioral patterns without telling each family the truth, beyond the shadow of a doubt, the research is unethical to a fault, but it is also clear to understand that, when temptation is that high – to acquire a chance of purely studying genetically identical specimens without any cross-contaminating external inferences, ethics can be easily compromised, this is what the film hits home with, although Wardle verges on over-exploiting sentimentality to this reviewer’s taste.
Told through various talking-heads effusing on the beggar-belief discovery, the film is noticeably edited to coalesce an intriguing narrative by filmmakers carefully choosing what information can be divulged along the way, for one thing, it never loses that lucidity in it. But conspicuous by his own absence, since Robert and David are the main raconteurs, very soon, the absent Edward’s fate starts to cast an ominous undertow, so by the time the bean finally been spilled, we have already built up enough ballast to accept it with spiraling curiosity of its raison d’être, unfortunately, Wardle skirts over it, one might second-guess because the family has its concern of their privacy, but still, it is somewhat disheartening, one cannot just lump the reason behind a person’s suicide to a simple medical term like “manic depression”, there is much more factors in the play, everyone knows that, therefore this obvious cop-out hamstrings the film’s sensibility and impact.
Graciously allowing different voices being uttered in the mix, and predictably veering back to the nature vs. nurture debate for its closure (please do not torment Eddy’s foster father who has already lost a son, he is not the one to blame and of course nurturing is substantive, that differentiates us from animals) when the ongoing investigation hits a cul-de-sac, Dr. Neubaurer’s research report has been officially sealed in Yale until 2066 (why particularly choosing offspring of mentally disturbed subjects? That leaves a big question mark!), THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS is a documentary fashioned in its safest route to allure a mass audience (which it did with a whopping $12.3 million box-office receipt stateside), but relative to its sensitive and contentious subject matter, the outcome is less than enterprising.