THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS. US, 2018. Directed by Tim Wardle. 96 minutes. Rated PG (Mild themes and coarse language)
Clearly a title meant to intrigue – and it certainly does.
At first, this seems a very cheerful show, an interview with a middle-aged man telling the story of his going to college, everybody greeting him familiarly, his being puzzled, and then discovering that he resembled a young man who had been at the college the year before. He gets in contact and finds that they are identical in appearance and manner.
The two men were 19 at the time of their discovering each other, so all was very exciting, the media was fascinated, journalists were interviewing, articles in the papers and magazines – which then lead to another family looking at the photos and realising that the son in their house also resembled the two and that they all shared the same birthdate and had been adopted out by the same American Jewish adoption service.
So, the audience is carried along with all this cheerfulness, the young men bonding instantly with each other, enjoying the publicity, and all the TV shows, living the high life in New York.
The parents, however, were not pleased that they had not been informed that their adopted child had two siblings, that there were triplets. The mood of the film begins to change, becoming more emotionally demanding as well as puzzling.
Meanwhile, the three young men open up a restaurant, working together. Date, get married, the beginnings of their own families. The different parents also seem to get on pretty well with one another and the audience gets to know them and their backgrounds as well.
And then the mood begins to change further, working like an investigative story, probing the adoption agency and its methods, the secrecy, the choices of the particular families and their backgrounds, and some follow-up to see how the children developed within their families, a project, officers visiting and filming, asking questions, everything being filed.
There is a tragic aspect of the film which also jolt the emotions, issues of health, mental health, questions of heredity. And, there are appearances from a set of identical twins who had been adopted out and then discovered each other, who are also interviewed on television, fascinated by the similarities in their separate lives.
At the beginning, two of the triplets interviewed are in their 50s, looking back with some exhilaration, some regrets, some angers as they try to investigate what actually happened to them, the agency’s choice of their parents and differing family backgrounds, and each of them having an adopted sister two years older.
This documentary is well paced, draws its audience in with its various emotions and moods, some very human experiences but also raising a great number of scientific questions, even more ethical questions, and the ever-continuing debate about nature versus nurture.
Madman films Released August 30th
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.