Posts Tagged ‘“Three Identical Strangers”’


David Kellman, Eddy Galland and Bobby Shafran


96 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

What if you learned — as an adult — that you were one of three identical triplets?  What if you could not only meet your long-lost siblings but become part of their lives?

Pretty neat, huh?

At first, yeah. But Tim Wardle’s doc “Three Identical Strangers” moves inexorably from “Gee wiz” to “Oh, shit.”

It begins with Bobby Shafran, now in his mid-50s, relating how he went off to college in 1980 and was surprised at how friendly everybody was.  Total strangers patted him on the  back and gave him the high five. Girls he didn’t know walked up and hugged him.

People he’d never met called him Eddy.

Turns out Bobby had a doppleganger, a guy who looked exactly like him and had attended classes a year earlier before dropping out. This guy, Eddy, was beloved by one and all. Bobby drove two hours to meet him.

“As I reach out to knock on the door, it opens, and there I am,” he tells us.

Eddy Galland was more than Bobby’s lookalike. Comparing notes they realized they had the same birthday.  Both young men had been raised by adoptive parents who got them through the same Jewish adoption agency.

Newspaper reports followed…and the revelation that there was a third brother, David Kellman.

“Oh, my God, they’re coming out of the woodwork!” said one of the stunned adoptive mothers.

Not only did the brothers look exactly alike, they moved the same way, smoked the same brand of cigs  (Marlboro), had identical tastes in music and women.

They became celebs, opened a trendy SoHo restaurant called Triplets, and were party hearty regulars at Studio 54 and other ’80s hot spots.

Great story, huh?

Don’t get too comfortable. As it unfolds “Three Identical Strangers” reveals a psychological experiment worthy of Dr. Mengele.

This shadowy long-term study, put into motion before the boys were born and terminated only with the publicity surrounding their unexpected reunion, apparently was meant to answer the question of whether we are driven more by genetics or by our individual upbringings.

To make it happen the researchers deliberately  broke up newborn triplets and twins (the official explanation was that it was difficult to find adoptive parents for twins, much less triplets). Moreover, the boys each were placed in a family that already had an adopted daughter. (Why? Don’t know.) Their parents were not told that their new adopted sons were part of a multiple birth, although they agreed that the children would undergo periodic mental and physical testing.

The perfidies get even more ghastly when it’s revealed — thanks largely to an investigation by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lawrence Wright –that the boys’ birth mother had mental issues. All three had troubled childhoods that required psychiatric counseling. Could they have inherited a form of manic depression?

What the hell was going on here?

“Three Identical Strangers” raises plenty of issues but cannot come up with many answers. All the research done in the study was given to Yale University with the understanding that it not be made public until 2066, by which time all the subjects would be dead.  A final credit tells us that because of publicity surrounding the making of the documentary, the brothers finally are receiving some heavily redacted material from the archive.

What makes Wardle’s film so compelling is not just that it’s a fantastic story and an intriguing mystery, but that it raises profound issues, not only about medical ethics but about what makes us who we are.  The boys were placed with three very different families — blue collar, middle class, elite — in order, it seems, to see how those environments might shape them.

The ways in which their three worlds either supported or undermined them, combined with their shared genetic inheritance, make for so some pretty deep thinking.

“…Identical Strangers” starts out as a romp. Before it’s over it has become a lamentation.

| Robert W. Butler


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