Nature vs. Nurture in Haunting Strangers
It was Mark Twain who pointed out that truth is stranger than fiction and were he alive today, he would point to Tim Wardle’s compelling documentary Three Identical Strangers as proof. What begins as an examination of an incredible coincidence turns into an examination of the question of whether nature or nurture is more significant in the formation of a person’s personality. While this would be fascinating in and of itself, the story takes a turn so dark its hard to comprehend and will likely leave viewers furious and aghast.
In 1980, a story played out in the news that captivated the country, a tale that got stranger and stranger as it played out. Upon going to community college in upstate New York, 19 year-old Bobby Shafran was greeted warmly by utter strangers as he first walked across campus. Turns out he was being mistaken for Eddy Galland, a former student from the previous year who he was quickly put in contact with. Physically identical, these two began asking questions of each other and found out they had both been adopted from the same orphanage as babies. The story took an even stranger turn when a young man named David Kellman thought he was looking into a mirror when he got a gander at an article in the newspapers and was ultimately put in contact with Bobby and Eddy. It soon became apparent that these three were in fact triplets, separated and given to separate families, none of them being told that the child they were adopting had siblings.
Needless to say, their story was a sensation and the trio ended up making the talk show circuit, were the subject of numerous magazine articles and even had a cameo in the Madonna feature Desperately Seeking Susan. Wardle does a fine job of laying out three parallel storylines as he chronicles how the brothers dealt with the media spotlight while examining how their respective sets of parents returned to Louise Wise Services where the boys were adopted and began asking questions concerning their past and why they were separated.
And this is when the film takes a turn that could not be predicted. To say anymore would ruin the many surprises the story contains and Wardle’s sense of pace becomes the key to the movie working. Needless to say, the revelations are not only surprising but also ultimately infuriating and haunting. Ultimately, once the fates of the three brothers are revealed an answer to the question of nature and nurture is suggested. Strangers powerfully reiterates a lesson we fail to heed again and again – that human intervention in the natural order of things always leads to disaster, this incident resulting the most personal of tragedies.