When I first read about Three Identical Strangers, I was super intrigued. After doing some light research, the story behind this documentary had everything I enjoy: the science of psychology, a true crime twist, and thick New York accents. The story of these triplets separated at birth and used for a psychological study meant to further the debate about nature versus nurture will make you feel so many different emotions during the ninety minutes that you are allowed to enter these people’s lives.
At first, you are drawn into the joy of these brothers as you listen to the absurd story of how they met and the extreme happiness that filled their lives in the beginning. As the documentary continues it gets darker as you learn of the extreme injustice that these three families experienced. The director, Tim Wardle, does a great job of weaving together the stories of people who were affected differently by this story. You hear from the brothers themselves, their family, friends, research assistants for the study, and journalists who have helped to bring this story to light.
The one thing I did not enjoy about this film was the use of B-roll at times. It is a problem that I often have with documentaries. I understand that it serves a purpose. But, at times, it seems over used. There were moments during this film where I wished B-roll hadn’t been used and we had just been able to watch the brothers tell their story.
This story will absolutely break your heart at times. However, in the end you still walk away feeling optimistic knowing that these particular families are finally getting answers to the atrocities that they were put through by a system that absolutely took advantage of them.
Alex and I have been making an effort to see more documentaries recently. Earlier in July, we saw Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, which was an excellent look at the life and television career of Fred Rogers. After taking in Eighth Grade earlier this morning, we saw Three Identical Strangers. The documentary focuses on three American infants who were adopted by three different families who were unaware that the children were triplets, and that they were being adopted out to different families as part of a nature versus nurture study.
Director Tim Wardle mostly serves this amazing story well by focusing on all the people impacted by this unethical study. He takes a mostly chronological approach to the story that lets the audience feel the joy of the triplets’ discoveries of their siblings and shows how their relationships changed with the revelation, many years later, that their separation was intentional and they were studied for many years after being adopted.
Where the film occasionally goes wrong is in the heavy handedness of its B-roll. Warlde repeatedly introduces the revelations in this story by showing us montages of footage we have already seen, as if the audience can not remember these moments and add up the information for themselves. It seems unnecessary though, because every audience member at the screening I attended was completely mesmerized by the unfolding story. I’ve never been in an auditorium with this large of an audience who was so focused on and respectful of what they were watching. This is a powerful story, and the film would be more efficient if it had more confidence in its own power. That weakness aside, this is a compelling and thought-provoking film that is well-worth the gas money it will take to get to a city where it is playing.