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Movie Review: 'Three Identical Strangers'

What if, one day, you were walking down the street, turned a corner, and ran smack into… yourself? And then, as you were standing there, wide-eyed, just beginning to have a conversation with this person… a third version of you showed up and joined in?

This is only a mildly exaggerated explanation of what happened to the subjects of the new documentary, Three Identical Strangers. In 1980, as 19-year-olds, David Kellman, Bobby Shafran, and Eddy Galland discovered they were triplets, separated at birth, and raised by adoptive parents with no knowledge of each other. As it turns out, the parents themselves also had no knowledge of the other children—in fact, no one did, except the original adoption agency, and, in a sinister turn, a select group of other people.

The men turned into somewhat of a national sensation, going on talk shows to recount their story, but also to display just how similar they all were. Despite growing up in very different households, they all had common interests, habits, and mannerisms, and they bonded almost immediately, as if they’d spent no time apart at all.

But the documentary also has much deeper things on its mind, opening up the classic battle between nature and nurture: What is it that makes us who we are? Were these men actually just clones of each other? Or were there deeper differences no one could anticipate?

It would be unfair to expect this movie to have a lot of answers—no one’s definitively found the nature/nurture key despite many decades of investigation—but it does ask important questions about identity, the factors that influence our well being and mental health, and what is and isn’t ethical when it comes to the pursuit of knowledge and truth. History may treat this story as a curiosity, but at the very least, Three Identical Strangers helps us understand the delicate nature of how we’re formed as people—and that no two of us are alike, despite any appearances to the contrary.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.