Tim Wardle’s Three Identical Strangers lulls audiences with a pleasant and uplifting first half only to blindside viewers with a twisted backend to a true story which is riveting while attempting to challenge the notion of nature vs. nurture.
Three Identical Strangers is yet another excellent documentary in what has been quite a renaissance for the often maligned genre. For those who have read up on the case, Wardle’s brand of storytelling doesn’t pass judgment but avoids sugar-coating the facts surrounding the adoption of triplets to three different families, all in the name of science.
Our story begins with Robert Shafran who went away to school and was “greeted” in an odd manner by the other students. The kisses and high fives are generally reserved for someone who had been around last year, but he was just a freshman. He thought they were just “friendly” until an unknown student (who later find out is named Michael) stormed into the room. After the shock of what he immediately wore off, he told David that he had a twin who went to the same university. Eventually, these two (David and his twin Eddie) are connected, and life becomes a whirlwind for them both. A media frenzy begins to build, and the two boys find their image plastered everywhere leading to the discovery of David (their other brother) and the reuniting of these boys who were unfairly separated at a very young age by Louise Wise adoption services. What starts off as a cruel set of circumstances becomes the slow realization that their separation was done with intent and far from an accident.
Wardle’s straightforward approach to storytelling is incredibly helpful when attempting to get through the many layers of this shocking tale. He doesn’t seek to politicize anything and keeps the focus squarely on the children who had their youth manipulated by various doctors. What audiences will appreciate is how he’s not afraid to ask probing questions in the interest of seeking the truth and isn’t malicious towards others (which he easily could be). With every layer of the mystery becoming unraveled came a surprising amount of tension. As more children spoke up about their similar experience, the feeling of astonishment swelled. How could this happen? Why did this occur?
Three Identical Strangers is edited quite well as it highlights the media circus which grew out of control while splicing in clips of the boys discussing their feelings during those moments. It was as if we were watching a video of their life with the triplets providing commentary. The meticulous pacing of the film was certainly appropriate making sure none of the details were diminished.
Avoiding seeing this documentary would be robbing yourself of a fantastic experience seldom found in many releases. Three Identical Strangers delivers a poignant message and shows the world that there are lines one can’t cross even in science and especially if it involves children.