“THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS”
Blu-ray, DVD, Digital copy; 2018; PG-13 for mature thematic material; streaming via Amazon Video/Prime, FandangoNOW, Google Play, iTunes, YouTube, Vudu
Best extra: Commentary with Director Tim Wardle and Editor Michael Harte
IMAGINE YOU’RE about to start college and just arrived on campus, exploring the grounds, looking for your dorm. People you’ve never met come up to you, greet you, even hug and kiss you hello.
Some call you by a name that isn’t yours.
This was how, in 1980, Robert Shafran discovered Eddy Galland, his exact double, who was also a student at Sullivan County Community College in New York. When the two met, it was as if they were seeing their own faces in a mirror. They soon realized they’re twins, who were separated at birth and adopted. Before long, thanks to a photo in a newspaper article about them, a third identical stranger came forward: David Kellman. Triplets, not twins!
English director Tim Wardle does a fine job letting Bobby, David, members of their families, and others, tell this uncanny story. The documentary takes viewers through the early years of the brothers’ reunion, which involved instant fame and notoriety, including appearances on talk shows, a movie cameo and countless news stories. But eventually a shadow falls over the narrative, as it did over the mens’ lives, particularly when a discovery is made about the Jewish adoption agency responsible for their placement. Turns out the adoptive families were part of an experimental study to determine the comparative effects of “nature vs. nurture,” but none of the families had all the details, nor were they told their sons had identical siblings.
The degree to which the study (which was never even made public) was unethical and downright cruel, is beyond shocking. The facts, as they are revealed, make for a riveting film. Unfortunately, Wardle patches in a variety of reenactments, which tend to cheapen the whole, giving it the look of a sensationalistic cable TV show. With all the interviews and terrific archival footage of the brothers, their families and friends, some of the researchers, and New Yorker writer Lawrence Wright (“Going Clear”), author of a book about twins and the twins study, the “recons” add little more than length to the documentary.
This Universal Blu-ray looks and sounds very good. Recent interviews (and reconstructions) are in high def, with the various archival segments looking and sounding their age.
Extras include an onstage Q&A session with Kellman, Shafran and Wardle, and a photo gallery. The commentary, by Wardle and Harte, is excellent, although it takes a few minutes to get used to their English and Irish accents, respectively. Wardle says he was initially worried that the brothers look so much less alike now than when they were young. Harte notes that the reconstructions, in some cases, use more saturated colors, to be dream-like and suggest memories.
Wardle credits Kellman’s friend Ellen Cervone with many of the photos of the brothers, beginning in the 1980s. It was she who was responsible for David’s reunion with Eddy and Bobby. Harte and Wardle talk about the early part of the documentary, during which Harte created an “’80’s-type montage” of the brothers’ happiest times together, in order to “lull audiences into a false sense of security” before the “tonal shift” toward the darker side of the story.
Wardle jokes about needing a Yiddish dictionary, given to him by his Jewish mother-in-law, to be able to understand a lot of what people were talking about. He also recalls writing about the film to Billy Joel, who subsequently permitted Wardle to use his song, “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” in the film, charging a fraction of what the rights would otherwise have cost.
Wardle, in discussing the revelations that occur in the brothers’ lives, calls it “one of the most incredible twists in a story I’ve ever heard. I defy anyone to predict that something like this would have happened.”
— Peggy Earle