Documentary Review: The Three Identical Strangers

Image result for the three identical strangersThe other day I came across this really captivating documentary about identical triplets who were separated at birth and adopted by three different families. Their reunion blew everyone away because despite spending a significant amount of their lives apart they shared so many similarities from the brand of cigarettes they smoked to their mannerisms. However, their newfound relationship with one another didn’t come without repercussions and detrimental effects. 

David Kellman, Eddy Galland, and Bobby Shafran were born to their single, teenaged mother on July 12, 1961. Unbeknownst to everyone, the boys were actually a part of a research study. Psychiatrists Peter B. Neubauer and Viola W. Bernard were operating under the auspices of the Jewish Board of Guardians and the Louise Wise adoption agency. They devised a plan where the three infants were intentionally placed with families having different parenting styles and economic levels. One was placed with a blue-collar family while the others were placed with middle class, and affluent families. All of the families had adopted a baby girl through the same agency two years prior to adopting one of the triplets. 

The study that the triplets were apart of was the infamous nature versus nurture study. It was so interesting to me because out of all the four years of undergraduate schooling I did on psychology there was never any real conclusion on the debate of nature versus nurture. Neubauer and Bernard’s study goes back to the 60s, but was brought to a halt in the 80s when the triplets had their highly publicized reunion, which was funny because did they really think that triplets who lived NYC were going to get away with not ever seeing one another? I mean NYC is a highly populated city, but the families that adopted them all lived within a certain proximity of one another, which is why they discovered each in common places like the community college and read about each other in the local newspaper. Another thing worth pointing out is that when the boys had been placed in their adopted homes researchers would regularly do home visits and no one ever questioned it or thought that it was odd.

Things had been going great and the triplets spent a lot of time together and bonded. Their newfound fame had them partying, drinking and doing drugs on the regular basis. However, things started to shift as time went on especially after meeting their birth mother. They realized that after all those years she hadn’t really come to terms with giving them up for adoption and she had a bit of a drinking problem herself, which highlighted the theme of mental health as the documentary progressed. As the boys transitioned in adulthood they struggled with their own mental health issues. They attempted to come together to run a business, but it drove a wedge between them with one of the brothers leaving. It put a strain on Eddy who unfortunately committed suicide shortly after his manic-depressive diagnosis and release from a psych ward. From that point on, the remaining brothers came to realize they had dealt with mental health issues throughout their lives such as, separation anxiety as infants and were even institutionalized at 16 years old.

Likewise, there were twin sisters that were included in the documentary. Like the triplets, they found out that they shared a lot of similarities such as studying film as well as dealing with bouts of depression. After discovering one another they reached out to the adoption agency and inquired about their birth mother. They did not get much information on her, but they did find out that she suffered from schizophrenia.

The triplets and the twins both had parents who dealt with mental health issues and they had been clueless the entire time about the fact that they were being experimented on and observed to see whether who they were was embedded in them genetically or if they could re-shaped based on how they were raised. Additionally, they all came from Jewish backgrounds, which ties into a lot of the research that was done on Jewish people and twins during that time. Neubauer and Bernard never shared any information on their nature versus nurture study. They even restricted access to the study until 2066 while the documents are stored at Yale. However, David Kellman and Bobby Shafran haven’t given up and decided their story as well as spread awareness through this documentary.

This documentary is available on Hulu.

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