Directed by: Tim Wardle
Imagine waking up one day believing you were completely unique, truly one of a kind. Then suddenly realising that you were actually part of identical triplets. And not only do you all look alike, but you also share the same interests, have the same mannerisms and even smoke the same brand of cigarettes. Now, if this sounds like it’s a plot of a crazy larger than life comedy, then think again.
This extraordinary tale actually did happen to three young men and their story is explored in Three Identical Strangers. Directed by Tim Wardle, this extraordinary documentary starts off as a feelgood human interest story, but by the end, it will leave the viewer questioning “what makes you, you?” Wardle’s approach to telling this story is highly imaginative and visual, allowing the images and footage to speak for itself. It is clear that Wardle is interested in the subject matter (or should that be subject matters) and even those who aren’t the biggest fans of documentaries will find this one, very appealing.
Three Identical Strangers begins in 1980, with 19-year-old Bobby Shafran. Bobby attends his first day of university only to find his new classmates greeting him as ‘Eddy’, acting like they’ve known him for years despite it being the first time that they have met. In order to capture how surreal this even must have been, the director decides to tell the first half of the documentary through narration and recreated scenes. The viewer becomes immersed in this moment and is invested in the events that are playing out. Bobby and Eddy are introduced face to face, and there’s no denying that these two young men must be related. However, things take another unexpected turn when Bobby and Eddy meet and are contacted by David, whose adoptive mother noticed a pair of twins in the newspaper who looked exactly like her son.
What followed after the reunion, was a period of (pre-internet) immense fame that took the triplets from the Phil Donahue Show to a cameo alongside Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan. The general public and the media were fascinated by the brothers’ likeness. The triplets played up to this act: they finished each other’s sentences, smoked the same brand of cigarettes, even had the same taste in women (“We prefer older ladies”). When one brother crossed his legs, the others followed. A decade later, the triplets us their fame to open they a steakhouse in Soho, New York, called Triplets (of course!), which was a hit. However, then their tale took an unexpectedly dark turn.
As the narrative unfolds, a shocking discovery is made concerning the truth about why the triplets were separated. It’s best not to give any of these details away, but it is truly disturbing to think how others could get away with meddling in the lives of newborn children. The shift in tone is at first quite a shock at first, and it will take some time to progress all the information that is being provided to you. Perhaps the documentary could have benefitted from a long run-time or being a television mini-series, simply because this story is so vast in scope. This is not a critique of the film, but rather praise. The story and the subjects are so interesting, that you want to see more of them. Wardle’s strong director and eye for detail help keep the viewer on the edge of their seat as they absorb everything that is occurring on screen, soaking in every last snippet of detail. In a year of strong, moving and well-directed documentaries, Wardle’s Three Identical Strangers certainly stands out from the rest with its distinct look and well-crafted use of editing, music, and visuals.
Not only is this a highly enjoyable and entertaining documentary; but is, more importantly, an educational and thought-provoking one. Three Identical Strangers asks the viewer to question and debates ideas (like the idea of nature vs. nurture and how far can the boundaries of human psychologically be tested). Wardle shows his capability as a compassionate director, and never does the documentary feel manipulative or false in order to provoke deep emotional responses from its viewer. This is a genuinely moving documentary, that does this extraordinary tale justice. This story is like nothing else you will see on screen this year, and you have to see it, to believe it.
Three Identical Strangers is truly identical and original in its own right.