You don't have to be Jewish to lament "Oy, yoy, yoy" after seeing director Tim Wardle's shocking documentary, "Three Identical Strangers." After being presented a series of outlandish and disturbing disclosures about the title triplets separated at birth, adopted by three separate families and who are reunited at age 19, you'll warm up for that final assessment by first issuing several "Holy Cows," a few "Yipes" and perhaps a couple good old-fashioned "Wows."
Unaware of, or having forgotten about, the celebrity that Eddy Galland, David Kellman and Robert Shafran enjoyed when they discovered each other in the early 1980s, I expected something more tame than this eye-opening and provocative, ethically disquieting study. Hence, I suggest that to experience a similar surprise before reaching a conclusion of moral outrage, you read very little about this bizarre tale. In fact, while I promise to skirt the eventual cause of your indignation, I won't be upset if you skip this review. Y'know, tis a far, far better thing I do.
I venture director Wardle probably counted on a convenient amnesia to afflict his potential viewers. His beautifully layered narrative, employing archive footage and contemporary interviews, slyly begins with a sunny ebullience. Happy in the whimsy of the reunification, we immediately like the brothers, and exalt in their apparent delight. On talk shows, as the giddy host pumps the novelty for all its worth, audiences marvel and cheer. The three inform that they smoke the same brand of cigarette, like the same sort of women, etc., etc. How about that, folks?
But where is all this going? The short review, as opined by my daughter, Erin, whose astuteness in matters creative is on generous display at her art gallery, is, "It's Nuts!" While the camera intermittently switches among psychiatrists who came to be familiar with the case, and who chime in with their opinions, we can't help but mull our own analysis of what we're witnessing.
Learning that the boys were raised in three different, socioeconomic backgrounds — blue collar, middle class and upper crust — we arrive at the age-old, inescapable debate: nature vs. nurture. Their initial chemistry is remarkably strong — the communication astonishing. It occurs that they did originally share a language with each other, now long lost, but perhaps retrievable in a new dialect. All of which unleashes a bevy of dilemmas that boggles the mind. And while we might, as vicarious parents feel pride when the triplets open a restaurant/nightclub in Manhattan not too long after they get together, we fear the gloss on the pumpkin will perhaps fade, a victim of familiarity breeding contempt combined with the rigors of business.
Of course, none of this is as ominous or portending as the secret I promised to keep, Cheshire cat smile obnoxiously plastered on my face. Suffice it to note, however, that at issue before closing credits roll is no less than the power of our DNA as it figures in the perennial question of free will vs. fate. Many people use that argument as the reason for their apparent success (i.e., "I come from a long line of wealthy taxidermists"), but more often than not as rationalization for their perceived failure (i.e., "No one loved me but my Momma, and I think she was jiving me, too").
But we are a generally optimistic species, with most of our members subscribing to the maxim that if we put our nose to the grindstone we will soar to incalculable heights. Witness our rise thus far from the primordial mud to pan-global, digital command of our destiny, emblemized by the ability to have pizza delivered to our front door in 30 minutes or less. Therefore, while we might worry that some genetic fly in the ointment will derail the natural high the troika exude upon discovering one another, we imagine the resultant synergy as potentially limitless.
So we drop our guard whilst basking in the grand curiosity of how similar the triplets turned out to be, not considering the infinite number of ways they may be different. And then, lo and behold, at about the movie's midpoint, the golden apple of discord is tossed into the mix, dealing us the proverbial gut punch. There's a heretofore unmentioned variable afoot — a sinister deceit — an unconscionable skullduggery that prompted my aforementioned oy, yoy, yoy! (Loosely translated for out-of-towners, boy oh boy!)
It is "Believe it or Not" with a built-in moral quandary, causing us to wonder about the yin and the yang of the lines we humans cross in the cause of pursuits both small and large, defensible or obscene. Similar to many of the outlandish divulgences coming out of Washington these days, "Three Identical Strangers" is a classic example of truth being stranger than fiction.
"Three Identical Strangers," rated PG-13, is a Neon release directed by Tim Wardle and stars Eddie Galland, David Kellman and Robert Shafran. Running time: 96 minutes
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