When the story of Bobby Shafran, Eddy Galland and David Kellman surfaced in the early 80’s, it became tabloid and talk-show TV fodder.
Unbelievable to anyone not living it, the idea that three people (and identical twins no less) would be separated at birth and then reunited in their late teens by pure chance seems like the stuff of fantastical fiction. But it did happen, and director Tim Wardle’s new documentary Three Identical Strangers tells the story and more. Oh, so much more.
Spending its first half exploring the series of events that brought the three young men back together in 1980 and basking in their intuitive fraternal connection to each other, Wardle establishes a sense of charm and easygoing coincidence that makes for enjoyable viewing. We observe their many appearances on TV shows, mimicking each other and making an American population fawn over their boyish good looks and rugged East Coast dialect. They even made a cameo in Susan Seidelman’s Desperately Seeking Susan (1985). And anyone’s whose seen that movie knows the scene which, upon viewing in my teenage days, always felt like an inside joke and is now agreeably explained as, yes, pretty much an inside joke.
It’s in the film’s second half when the skies begin to darken and more and more serious talking heads are brought into the fray to explain just how something this charming and easygoing could happen. It wouldn’t take much to fantasize about the swirling, paranoid-drenched aesthetic a filmmaker like Errol Morris would drape around the events here. Ideas of ‘deep-state’ organizations and their devious methods of psychology abound. Nature versus nurture is a key touch stone as the film progresses. Hidden files and eighty year old secretaries are treated like revelations from ‘Deep Throat’. Ultimately, Wardle opens up an entire wound about the value of research and human behavior versus linear happiness and familial social boundaries.
Relying on a fairly pedantic documentary style with straight ahead personal testimonies and lackluster visual recreations, Three Identical Strangers survives not on visual grandiosity but the inherently fascinating story at the center. As each new chapter in the twins’ life is explained, the film deepens and even infuriates. It’s not fair for anyone to play God and what makes Three Identical Strangers most tragic is the fact that underneath the initial happiness experienced by Bobby, Eddy and David and no matter who or what commanded their unfair separation as babies, they ultimately paid the highest price.
Three Identical Strangers opens in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and the Angelika Film Center in Plano on Friday, July 6.