Three Identical Strangers (2018)

There are true stories out there that catch you completely off guard.  We talk about suspension of disbelief when it comes to fiction, but truly, it can be applied to real life as well.  Lots of “too weird to be true” tales are being turned into podcasts or a miniseries that’s streaming near you. So as we become more and more inundated with mysteries, both solved and unsolved, it’s becoming difficult to sift through or view each experience without trepidation.  Meaning that one can easily become burnt out on this style of storytelling just like any other genre.  I was starting to feel that way a little bit upon viewing a recent Netflix documentary that also felt a little one-sided.  Upon receiving an invitation to view THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS, there was skepticism. After all, what story could be embedded after all three men bond together after years apart? 

Well, I’m pleased to report that there are a lot of layers to what unfolds once everyone crosses paths. In fact, I would argue that it only gets more interesting due to my avid interest in psychology research and the irreparable damage that can ensue as a result of taking part whether willingly or unwillingly.  Archival footage shows newly reformed triplets on talk shows, messing around in home videos, with inevitable interspersions of still photographs of the three together. Then, we are introduced to our conflict. These triplets were separated at birth unbeknownst to their parents, but why? The mystery deepens, the stage is set and most people will find this to be one of the most engaging films of 2018.  Five years in the making courtesy of director Tim Wardle, this an extremely compelling story of three men who have gone through a lot both together and separately.  At the same time, this documentary feeds into our obsession with bizarre stories, while intelligently exploring deep moral and ethical debates, shedding light on a story that many powerful people want silenced.  With the accompaniment of Paul Saunderson’s minimalist score, Wardle takes audiences through time, capturing the vibrancy of the ‘80s with evocative 35mm archival footage, then shifting to reenactments and present-day interview footage, travelling between past and present with ease and clarity.  Through interviews with the brothers, their friends, their families, and investigative journalists, Wardle carefully curated a chronological narrative made up of various perspectives. Having the story told directly by those involved allowed a raw and honest voice to emerge; a careful reminder that this is something that really happened, and should be treated with delicacy rather than exploitation.

To this day, I still found something off-putting about THE IMPOSTER which chose to capture a perpetrator in a way that didn’t sit well with me.  It’s due for a rewatch, but not once did I feel uncomfortable with the way the story is presented here in THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS. It slowly becomes an exuberant celebration of family that transforms into a psychological thriller with colossal implications and proof that life is truly is stranger than fiction.  Most importantly, it made me think deeply about psychological intent and how the way some doctors go about treating human beings for the purposes of their own gain. In a way, it mirrors how we exploit others or how a filmmaker might exploit their subject matter. Why the need to invade people’s lives or subtly manipulate them to the point where they lose their sense of identity?  This is a question that’s posed later on, once a particular tragedy is revealed. I expected something but I was not anticipating my emotional outcry or how involved I became in the empathic response to viewing these men’s lives. THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS is a powerful story that is also a disturbing insight into the foundations behind nature vs. nurture. It will leave you questioning ethical implications without many answers, and that’s the sign of a great film.  When it leaves you reeling with thought and emotion and compassion. There is little closure but that’s just one of the reasons this makes for an endlessly fascinating recount rather than a dull retelling. Absolutely one of the year’s must-see films.

James Laczkowski