Three Identical Strangers Proves Life Is Stranger Than Fiction

by Ben Martin

The audience for documentary films has grown immensely over the past decade or so. In that time this non-fiction genre has spanned mediums, coming to theaters, going to home video, or airing on TV. More importantly, though, documentaries have spanned a broad spectrum of topics. My personal favorites of which generally concern geek culture or crime. Thankfully though, rarely do those two subjects intersect.
While the breadth of the topics and the viewership of documentaries has expanded; the genre itself has also changed immensely. The original purpose of a documentary was to serve as big surprise here, a document. To provide a record of a real-life event or a series of them; presented with an unbiased point of view on the filmmakers part. For better or worse though, documentarians aren’t unbiased anymore. To the contrary, they approach their subject matter with a particular point of view; crafting a narrative around their perspective. Now, approaching documentary filmmaking in such a way can make for an exciting story. However, doing so can also muddy the waters between fiction and nonfiction. Great documentaries walk between both worlds though. Presenting an unbiased document that manages to play out like a carefully-crafted story.

Documentarian Tim Wardell’s latest effort, Three Identical Strangers is among such great docs. The film follows three young men in 1980: David Kellman, Eddy Galland, and Robert Shafran. Through a series of almost comic events, this trifecta of identical 19-years-olds not only find their way into one another’s lives; they discover they are also brothers! Despite being separated at birth and adopted by three respective families, the young men quickly bond. However, there’s more to this odd story of serendipity than meets the eye.
Yes, that synopsis is intentionally vague; but with good reason. Three Identical Strangers has a mystery that runs through it. The less you know going in, the better. In any event, Wardell proves to be a masterful nonfiction storyteller. Quite frankly, he manages to do so much more with this documentary than I expected. Three Identical Strangers is an emotional roller-coaster in the theme park that is the human condition. In watching this doc, I became invested in the brothers. As a result, I experienced just about every emotion one could. One moment, I’m charmed at how the triplets story took pop culture by storm in the 80s. Then, a few minutes later, I feel I’m with the brothers, experiencing their lows.

All the while, I’m in suspense as this doc is ultimately a great mystery. A mystery that will surprise and sadden; as well as one that will also make you once again examine the argument of nature vs. nurture. In doing so, be warned that you may experience an emotional punch in the gut as I did. In closing, not only is Three Identical Strangers one of the best documentaries in recent history. Moreover, it is one of the most suspenseful and dramatic movies of the year!


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