Three Identical Strangers


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Three Identical Strangers - New York,1980: three complete strangers accidentally discover that they're identical triplets, separated at birth.
"The surprises just keep coming in Tim Wardle's documentary, which starts in the realm of the remarkable and is likely to leave jaws dropped by record proportions by the time the credits roll." | Photo: Newsday LLC

The surprises just keep coming in Tim Wardle's documentary, which starts in the realm of the remarkable and is likely to leave jaws dropped by record proportions by the time the credits roll. He takes an immersive approach to the story of three triplets who only discovered they had been separated at birth when they were college age, rightly seeing that the testimony of Bobby Shafran and David Kellman (their brother Eddy Galland died before the film was made) is lively enough to provide a narrative through line, with flashback illustration.

Our journey down the rabbit hole begins with Bobby, who relates the strange tale of his first day at college, an initially odd experience of a surprisingly warm welcome that became stranger as people began to greet him with phrases such as, "Welcome back, Eddy". It turned out his doppelganger had been at the college in the previous year and it wasn't long before someone put one and one together and came up with twins.

Even in the pre-internet world of 1980, the story was understandably a media sensation and, when it hit the newstands it took the first of additional strange turns, when a third sibling - Eddy - came forward.

The tale of their reunion and subsequent time in the media spotlight and beyond might provide enough meat for many documentaries, but that was just the beginning of the story for the brothers - one that begins in a joyful place and becomes increasingly sinister. While their reunion brought nothing but happiness, the three soon started trying to discover why they had been split up in the first place - Bobby raised by a rich doctor, David a middle-class teacher and Eddy a blue-collar worker.

As they began to question why the Louise Wise adoption agency had decided not to send them all to the same home, they began to prise the top off a can worms - what if they hadn't been split up for practical reasons at all, but deliberately raised in different homes as part of a psychological nature-versus-nature experiment none of the parents were privvy to?

The sort of story that science-fiction filmmakers lap up, belief is beggared within the first 20 minutes and still the revelations don't stop. Wardle's instinct to embed us with Bobby and David is a strong one, so that we feel like we know these fun-loving guys before their anger begins to make itself shown. He also makes an effort to fill out the details of the reunion and the boys' characters with testimony additional family members and a wealth of archive footage of them talking about how they felt at the time on various talk shows.

Good use of pop music near the film's beginning gives way to strong scoring from Paul Saunderson that adds to the film's increasingly unsettling vibe. Answers may not be easy to come by, but Wardle does a lot of digging, taking time to explore what it means to be the centre of a media storm before he begins to zero in on the more psychologically disturbing aspects of the mens' lives. The director has a background in TV documentary and occasionally this shows, not least in his tendency to repeat details or clips - something necessary when you're constantly welcoming people back from advert breaks but extraneous in the cinema. He nevertheless does a good job of balancing the personal and emotional aspects of the story with the more political ramifications surrounding it. With so many questions left unanswered at the end of the film, it's unlikely that it will stop here - I, for one, hope Wardle keeps up the spadework.

Reviewed on: 05 Mar 2018
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The story of the reunion of three triplets, who discover a disturbing secret about why they were separated in the first place.

Director: Tim Wardle

Year: 2018

Runtime: 96 minutes

Country: US


Sundance 2018

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