Director: Tim Wardle
We’ve all heard of the theory of six degrees of separation (or six degrees of Kevin Bacon, if you prefer). How society is interwoven to the degree that you can join the dots between any six people and find some form of connection. Tim Wardle’s enthused documentary Three Identical Strangers delves into this idea with a tale so unlikely that of course it is true.
Built from a mix of formal interviews, archival footage and well-shot reconstructions, the film focuses on brothers Eddy, Bobby and David; triplets separated at birth and reunited by a series of coincidences. Eddy and Bobby ended up attending the same college. When their reunion broke in the press as a human interest story, David came out of the woodwork. The three had an immediate simpatico. Together they toured talk shows and hit more headlines, becoming minor celebrities and living it up together in New York.
But Wardle shows also how society’s inter-connectivity worked against them. When the angered adoptive parents confront the agency Louise Wise Services, which separated the triplets, they get nowhere. And a lawsuit against said agency quickly came undone because of societal ties; couples involved in the law firms whose own adoption processes might be hindered by the connection. It’s a small but interesting counterpoint to the reunion of the brothers themselves, acknowledging the different ways in which ‘who you know’ affects our individual lives.
Making things more extraordinary are the shared characteristics between Eddy, Bobby and David. Not only are they physical clones of one another, but they appear to have cultivated identical tastes in spite of growing up in varying social classes. All three choose the same cigarette brand, enjoyed wrestling, shared the same taste in women, etc, etc. The vying influences of nature and nurture come under scrutiny from such coincidences.
Wardle and his subjects present the story in an incredibly engaging way. It is like when a friend bursts into your kitchen to tell you the latest gossip about so-and-so. The film comes at you with an exuberance, a “you’ll never guess what” mentality. It’s jovial and affectionate and it encourages you to keep with it, imbued as it is with the charm of a shaggy-dog story (there’s no pertinent reason to include the details of two brothers being pulled over for a speeding ticket as they race to meet the third, but it adds to the momentum and giddy verve of the piece).
Then… then things get, as one interviewee advises, “funky”…
The story of Three Identical Strangers is stacked and constructed in such a way so that certain narrative cards are held for later. That’s simply good storytelling. To surprise and further entertain your captive audience. As such I am loath to spoil what follows as the second act opens up the movie. Suffice it to say that things take a turn into X-Files territory. Chris Carter’s paranoiac writer’s room would consider coming up with something like this a very good day. Suddenly unethical scientific practices become part of the film’s sprawling thematic reach and we’re in the home of another exuberant presence; nonagenarian Natasha Josefowitz, regaling us with the times she met the Obamas and casually pointing out her Picasso collection. How did we get here?
Through connections. Like string wound around drawing pins on a map. And through cause and effect. How does what you do change the life of another person? These wide-ranging, far-flung questions are pricked upon by Three Identical Strangers. Like the original press copy that brought the brothers together, Wardle’s film bookends this journey as another human interest story, one gaining understandable acclaim from all corners.
Three Identical Strangers is a wild, thoughtful ride. “A little darker than a Disney movie” but just as easy to get swept up in.