Three men walk around in the world, living their singular lives, loving their parents, believing in the uniqueness of their individual self. That is, until they find that the other exists. And not only does the other exist, but they are identical to them. We’ve all heard wild stories of the lost “evil twin,” or the doppelgänger that existed 200 years ago and kind of looks like you if you squint your eyes hard enough. The human genome is a limited pool. Copies will happen. But 3? All living at once within 100 miles of each other in New York state? The odds are astronomical, if not impossible. It sounds like a bad National Enquirer story (not that there are any good National Enquirer stories).
The three brothers: Eddy, Robert, and David, at the heart of Tim Wardle‘s documentary, Three Identical strangers, are quite simply spectacular. Separated at birth and adopted by different parents, it wasn’t until Robert arrived at a school that Eddy once attended that he finds that he has an identical twin. And when their story is published in newspapers, they find David, a third brother. The brothers, surprisingly, get along well with each other and they hit the talk show circuit, go into business with one another, and form bonds with each other’s parents.
However, they soon find that they were separated from one another for the purposes of a scientific study to solve the debate between nature vs. nurture. Each brother’s adoptive family occupied a different class and area: blue-collar, middle-class, and affluent neighborhoods. The “Louise Wise twist,” so named because it’s the name of the adoption agency, is the major bomb of the documentary. Which says much about Three Identical Strangers when long lost brothers randomly finding each other isn’t the main twist.
The documentary is ultimately split between these two revelations, and both seem to occupy too long of a space. How many different ways can we find that the brothers are the same in almost every single way? And though they do cop to the fact that they played up their similarities, that they are in fact three unique individuals, it’s still a laborious exercise to hear, “they’re the same” every other minute. To those ends, once we find that they were purposely separated at birth as part a of cruel experiment, the narrative become rudderless. And when I say rudderless, when the mystery of “why” is solved (which is fairly quickly), there’s an obvious loss of an interest. Mainly because the documentary, somewhat understandably, becomes more about venting than the true-crime angle it wants to assume.
Instead, while Three Identical Strangers will certainly provide gasps at the multiple twists that accompanies it, I’m not sure if it’s a film worth revisiting. It fits as a Dr. Phil segment, but rarely goes beyond that. The narrative expertise is lacking. The ability to take a waiting to be told story and enthrall us, not only in its revelation, but also in its human drama is left wanting. Some of that has to do with the reenactments, which provide little other insight other than as reenactments. That is, they’re not done with a stylistic eye. They’re presented as the event, with little camerawork to provide a frame of narrative. This, and the above, makes Three Identical Strangers something worth seeing, but it’s not going to have you talking about it the next day.