Three Identical Strangers

Front Row at the Movies by Shirrel Rhoades

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You’ve heard the old saw about being separated at birth. It’s usually a phrase that’s applied to lookalikes, sort of a joke.
But it does happen, twins given up to different families. Sometimes they discover the connection later in life.

There are numerous twin studies, concentrating on identical siblings who were separated at birth. In some cases there are eerie similarities. They marry women with similar names. Name their kids alike. Have dogs with similar names. Vacation on the same beach. Other odd synchronicities.

Former Key West Citizen staffer Mark Howell was a twin. He can regale you with tales of how he and his brother (not separated at birth, but independently) named children and dogs in similar veins – each brother winding up on an island in the course of life events.

But whoa! Forget about twins. What if you had a case of triplets separated at birth?

“Three Identical Strangers” – currently playing at Tropic Cinema – tells that unusual story.

The documentary by British filmmaker Tim Wardle (“One Killer Punch”) chronicles the true story of a set of triplets (David Kellman, Bobby Shafran and Eddy Galland) who were deliberately separated at birth as part of a psychological experiment. They were given away to unknowing adoptive families, one blue collar, one middle class, and one upper class.
The boys had no idea they had brothers until 1980 when at the age of 19 one was mistaken for another on a college campus. They looked that much alike.

Then the newly found “twins” were surprised when a third boy saw them on television and was amazed that they looked just like him.

Quickly becoming media darlings, they were interviewed on TV by Tom Brokaw and Phil Donahue. They wore matching outfits and answered questions eerily in sync.

Forming a fast bond, they shared an apartment in New York City and opened a SoHo restaurant called Triplet’s. Needless to say, it attracted scores of tourists.

Yes, the Nurture vs. Nature debate becomes a key point of the film (as it does with all of “separated at birth” cases). But because of how Wardle structures the film, we mostly get the Nature perspective until very late in the story.

Wardle cleverly edits his footage (including the interviews) in a way to preserve the twists and turns of the story. The brothers spent years working through their anger over the fate that befell them. There is a sad ending that I won’t share, but this look inside three “identical” craniums is a journey rarely available.

You may want to take it out of intellectual curiosity. Or morbid fascination.

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