Three Identical Strangers is perhaps the most entertaining documentary I have ever seen. Just when you think the story couldn’t get any weirder, the universe decides to one-up things.
The story follows David Kellman, Bobby Shafran, and Eddy Galland, identical triplets that were separated at birth. It began in 1980 when Bobby arrived for his first day at Sullivan County Community College in the Catskills. Shock and awe ensued when everyone began greeting him as if he were an old friend. Bobby was informed that he looked exactly like Eddy, and the two met after an all-night car trip to Eddy’s Long Island home. A short time later, David came on the scene after seeing press coverage of the discovery.
Once all the initial excitement wore down, the question everyone had was, “How could this possibly happen?” Three sets of irate parents went to Louise Wise Services, a prominent New York City Jewish agency where the three adoptions originated. It was soon discovered that psychiatrists Peter B. Neubauer and Viola Bernard intentionally placed the boys with families of differing economic classes — blue-collar, middle-class, and upper-class — as part of a “nature versus nurture” study. After discovering each other, the boys became very well-known and hit the talk show circuit but all three suffered from depression; Galland later committed suicide.
Three Identical Strangers premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where it won the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Storytelling. A truly well-done documentary on multiple fronts, filmmakers beautifully pieced together the tragic lives of Kellman, Shafran, and Galland. You really get a sense of the joy and extreme frustration all three experienced. More questions than answers remain in the end, though. If you see one documentary this year, make it Three Identical Strangers.