Three Identical Strangers

A documentary about separated triplets reunited in adulthood reveals some dubious decisions by the psychiatric establishment.

Courtesy of NEON

When Bobby Shafran, Eddy Galland, and David Kellman met for the first time, their story made national headlines. Tim Wardle’s Three Identical Strangers begins with the then-19-year-old triplets’ chance reunion and sudden fame in the early 1980s. The director initially creates a jubilant mood by alternating between talking-head interviews with family members and friends and archival footage of the brothers’ TV appearances on The Today Show and The Phil Donahue Show.

But what starts as a sunny biography changes tonally at the midpoint when Ellen Cervone, a friend of David’s, says, “That’s when things got funky.” Until then, the present-day interviews only feature Bobby and David on camera. When we find out what’s happened to Eddy in the intervening years, Strangers embarks on an unsettling investigation of the adoption agency that found homes for the brothers. Wardle discovers that a renowned child psychiatrist named Dr. Peter Neubauer (1913-2008) was in cahoots with the agency. Together, they deliberately separated twins and triplets who had been given up for adoption in order to study the psychological effects of nature-versus-nurture. As a proxy and apologist for the late Neubauer, one of his former research assistants Dr. Natasha Josefowitz has this to say: “You may think, ‘This is terrible. How could you do this?’ This was all in terms of research, an opportunity.”

Rated PG-13. 
Opens Friday at the Alamo Drafthouse Theater and AMC Kabuki 8.

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