I love a good documentary and this, my friends, is a good documentary.
Three Identical Strangers is a film about three identical brothers who were separated at birth. Each was adopted and lived within 50 miles of each other. One went to a working class family, one to a middle class family, and one to an upper class family. They didn’t meet until 1980, when they were all 19 years of age. It’s a story that sounds unbelievable. And, in fact, there’s a reason for that: it was an elaborate psychological study done by psychiatrist Peter B. Neubar in collaboration with the Jewish Board of Guardians and the Louise Wise adoption agency. But, the children and the adoptive parents had absolutely no idea.
Three Identical Strangers combines video footage and pictures from each of the men’s upbringing with current interviews with two of the three, David Kellman and Bobby Shafran. Also interviewed are the parents of the men, their wives, and their sisters. Outside of the families, there are two people who knew of or were involved in the study interviewed along with a writer who had been investigating the study.
How the story unfolds is truly remarkable. The fist half of the film is the story of the three brothers: how they came to meet, how they shot to sudden fame, how they opened up a business. The documentary takes a turn midway through when it is revealed that Eddy Galland had committed suicide years prior to the making of the film. From here, the sinister plot is unveiled. Dr. Neubar and his team wanted to study identical siblings. Specifically, they wanted to study the separation of those siblings, their development apart, and the differences in parenting in the different class levels. But, it gets even more disturbing. How would the psychiatrists know that the families the children would go to would be perfect for their study? Each brother had a sister who had been adopted from the same orphanage. So, the Louise Wise Adoption Agency already had a record of them as parents. The most messed up part of the whole thing, though, is that the results of the study were never released. They were locked away in a library, not to be opened for decades. So, either no findings were found and people’s lives were essentially ruined for no reason, or the findings are darker than they wanted and feel that this is information that nobody should have.
Three Identical Strangers is a documentary that can be watched over and over again, and it never becomes less shocking. To think that human beings would use children and families as guinea pigs in an experiment is nearly incomprehensible. This is a documentary that will keep you hooked, and you won’t forget it.