PLOT The true story of identical triplets, separated at birth, who find each other as adults.
RATED PG-13 (adult themes)
BOTTOM LINE A riveting, stranger-than-fiction documentary that plays out like a mystery novel.
As cocktail party conversation or factoids in a magazine, twins studies never fail to fascinate. Separated at birth, the stories go, the twins meet decades later and discover they have lived parallel lives, with eerily similar dogs, wives and children — some identically named. Twins studies always spark discussion of nature and nurture, biology and destiny. The question few of us think to ask is: How did the siblings get separated in the first place?
“Three Identical Strangers,” Tim Wardle’s gripping documentary, provides a genuinely shocking answer. Much of this story has been well-publicized, both in the years immediately following the events and in recent coverage of this film. Even so, you may want to stop reading this review here, before the inevitable spoilers.
“Three Identical Strangers” begins with a coincidence, when Robert Shafran, a 19-year-old from Scarsdale, enrolled in a community college where, oddly, everyone seemed to know him as “Eddy.” After days of mistaken identity and confusion, another student brought Shafran face to face with his identical sibling, Eddy Galland of New Hyde Park. “And here I am,” Shafran recalls of meeting his carbon copy. “His eyes are my eyes, and my eyes are his eyes.”
The “twins” became a news story, which drew out a third sibling — David Kellman of Howard Beach. Now triplets, they made the rounds of TV talk shows and parlayed their fame into a successful Manhattan restaurant (called Triplets). For most of the newsreading public, the happy story ended there. Not until the mid-1990s, when Galland killed himself, did his surviving brothers delve more deeply into their pasts.
They found that they had been separated at birth by a prominent adoption agency, Louise Wise Services, at the behest of Dr. Peter Neubauer, a respected child psychiatrist. In essence, the triplets became involuntary test subjects in Neubauer’s parenting study, regularly visited by research assistants — and neither the triplets nor their families were ever told of the others’ existence. For Shafran and Kellman, explanations have been hard to find: Neubauer is dead, Louise Wise Services is defunct and the unpublished study resides at a Yale library under seal until 2065.
Wardle, in his feature film debut, digs deep for crucial interviews (two of Neubauer’s assistants speak on camera) and parcels out information strategically for maximum jaw-drop effect. The result is a riveting, real-life conspiracy thriller. Truth is often stranger than fiction, but rarely is it quite as strange as this.