Triple threat

A doc­u­men­tary about re­united triplets raises the old­est ques­tion and of­fers com­plex an­swers

Esquire (UK) - - Culture -

In 1980, when 19-year-old Bobby Shafran drove him­self up to Sullivan County Com­mu­nity Col­lege in the Catskills for the first time, he was sur­prised by the warmth of his re­cep­tion. “Ev­ery­body’s be­ing ex­tremely friendly, I don’t mean just a ‘Hi’, I mean claps on the back, high-fives. I was a lit­tle bit be­wil­dered,” says Shafran in Tim War­dle’s new doc­u­men­tary, Three Iden­ti­cal Strangers. Then they called him “Eddy”. Can you see where this is go­ing? Shafran couldn’t, but it turned out Eddy was al­ready a stu­dent at the col­lege, and also his brother, from whom he’d been sep­a­rated at birth when they were both adopted. What’s more, pub­lic­ity about their re­uni­fi­ca­tion re­sulted in a third brother, David, com­ing for­ward. Bobby, Eddy and David be­came a sen­sa­tion.

The triplets’ in­cred­i­ble story led them to ap­pear on many a talk show, but Bri­tish di­rec­tor War­dle’s film delves deeper, look­ing not just at the novel sim­i­lar­i­ties that ex­tended be­yond their looks — they all smoked Marl­boros! They all wres­tled! — but also the dif­fer­ences: the boys were placed in house­holds of vary­ing in­comes and with par­ents who es­poused very dif­fer­ent ideas about how to bring up chil­dren. And if it all sounds like some kind of das­tardly so­ci­o­log­i­cal ex­per­i­ment, well guess what.

Aided by jour­nal­ist Lawrence Wright, who wrote a piece for The New Yorker in 1995 about the con­tro­ver­sial twins study in the Six­ties by psy­chol­o­gist Dr Peter Neubauer, War­dle at­tempts to dis­cover the ra­tio­nale that saw an un­known num­ber of Bobby Shafran, Eddy Gal­land and David Kell­man were the triplet broth­ers caught up in a decades­long psy­cho­log­i­cal ex­per­i­ment in Amer­ica

twins — and the triplets — be­ing sep­a­rated in the name of science to pro­vide de­fin­i­tive data on the “na­ture ver­sus nur­ture” ques­tion. He in­ter­views fam­i­lies af­fected and sci­en­tists who par­tic­i­pated in the project; their re­spec­tive re­flec­tions make for a star­tling jux­ta­po­si­tion.

What did they find? And was it worth it? The an­swers — and the im­pli­ca­tions — are shock­ing and dis­turb­ing, even as they throw up more ques­tions. For the lat­ter, it be­comes clear early on that only Bobby and David are go­ing to be in­ter­viewed. Eddy is ab­sent. So on that at least, Three Iden­ti­cal Strangers gives us a fairly de­fin­i­tive “no”.

Three Iden­ti­cal Strangers is out on 30 Novem­ber

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