Three Identical Strangers is a documentary on the incredible story of triplets, separated at birth and adopted by different families, who find each other 19 years later. The film speaks a lot about the idea of nature vs nurture, taking an interesting turn in support of one idea to the other part way through. At the beginning, clips of them talking about their similarities are show (they each were captain of their high-school wrestling team, they each smoked the same brand of cigarettes, and they each had similar tastes in women). It was also mentioned how they all had suffered from mental health problems (one of the brothers actually ends up committing suicide) and it is suspected that they all inherited it from their biological mother, who they end meeting. However, later it’s talked about how when they first met they were really looking for similarities, and actually had a lot more differences. We also learn that the brother who committed suicide had a lot of issues with his adopted father. In the end, there are no big revelations on the debate of nurture vs nature. The movie seems to conclude that our personalities are a mishmash of the two.
Though I enjoyed the story and the discussion on nurture vs nature, I was greatly disappointed by film’s hook and major focus. We end up learning that the triplets, along with many other twins, were purposely separated at birth by the adoption agency and a group of researches, in order to study the idea of nurture vs nature and see how a child’s rearing could affect them growing up. While using human beings as test subjects without their knowledge has its fair share of ethical issues, the extent to which the film vilifies them is extreme. There’s one scene where adoptive parents of each of the triplets go to the adoption agency to ask why they were never told the child they adopted had two siblings. They are told that it is because the agency thought they wouldn’t be able to place all three triplets in one home. The parents then leave but one of the fathers goes back to get something he left behind and sees the people from the agency pour glasses of champagne. Though they did lie (however, placing triplets could be difficult) they are portrayed in this scene as cartoonish, James Bond like, villains making a toast after a successful evil deed. The movie also talks about the triplets mental health possibly being linking to the fact that they were separated at birth, and tries to make it seem like the most likely reason by bringing it up before they talked about the biological mother’s mental health, and by discussing it much more. What was done to the triplets was wrong, however, the researchers didn’t think they were hurting anyone (and there’s no evidence that they really did), and they were doing it learn more about human psychology in order to find out about the best ways of raising healthy children. It really felt like the movie simplified a much more complex moral dilemma.
My biggest problem of all with the film was what people might take away from it regarding adoption. The movie said nothing about the positive aspects of the triplets’ adoptions or adoptions in general. It also failed to mention the amount of oversight now and how anything like what happened in this film would be impossible today. It demonetized the adoption agency and cast a dark and unnecessary shadow over a vital industry that does a lot of good for a lot of people.
Three Identical Strangers had a great and amazing story, but I ultimately felt that much of its potential was squandered by its dramatizing of the research done on its main characters. I found it to be a somewhat disappointing film