By midlandsmovies, Dec 7 2018 12:36PM
Three Identical Strangers (2018) Dir. Tim Wardle
[Spoilers – please be aware this review reveals the film's main story]
This excellent new 96-minute documentary comes from Tim Wardle who re-discovers one of the more bizarre stories from the early 80s and re-positions it as a far more complex and dark tale than initially thought.
An outstanding opening tells the story of a young man, Robert Shaffran, who heads to college only to be mistaken by random strangers as their friend Edward Galland. After establishing that Robert isn’t Edward – who dropped out of the same college the previous year – fellow student Michael Domnitz encourages Robert to contact Edward and they drive cross-country to go meet him the very same day.
Amazingly, the tale unfolds to reveal that the two mistaken men are in fact twins, separated at birth through adoption yet who grew up in the same area.
The documentary uses talking head interviews to explain their incredibly wild story in simple terms which makes the tale all the more fascinating when the coincidences occur. And what coincidences!
As only a short time later – with the brothers’ story and photos making national newspapers – they are contacted by another man, David Kellman, who questions why he is looking at a picture of two of himself.
And so, the three men come to realise that far from twins, they are in fact a set of triplets who were raised in different households by loving families, unaware of each others existence.
Splicing in footage from the time across interviews, panel shows and question and answer TV appearances, the trio come across as likeable, fun and eerily similar siblings who make the most of their new found fame and fortune.
However, in a search for some answers to their adoptive pasts the families uncover a sinister reason for their separation involving a science experiment by psychiatrists Viola W. Bernard and Peter B. Neubauer. Without care or diligence, the two set a terrible scheme in motion to try and answer the age-old question of what has the most influence in our lives – nature or nuture?
The “scientific” study is given ominous context and with the full results sealed in a locked vault at Harvard University the brothers struggle to come to terms with their predicament. Grappling with their world, and their inner demons, one of them eventually commits suicide and the painful reality of their topsy-turvy lives is underscored in this honest yet fascinating documentary.
As with many of the best documentaries, it is the story itself that is the real enticement for audiences but the filmmaker’s change of tact to delve into the murky past and shady machinations is to its benefit and depth, with the film contrasting the happy reunion with the fatal outcomes.
Chilling, thrilling and fulfilling the documentary serves up a triple whammy of satisfying characteristics and combined with the revealing and candid interviews with the put-upon and exploited participants, it ends up being one of the best documentaries of 2018.