A strange combination of unlikely events & disturbing moral compasses (looking at you Natasha Josefowitz). Remarkably gripping while leaving you outraged, everyone who sees it should demand answers.
Three teenagers, who by pure coincidence (some might call it fate) in the fall of 1979 discovered they were triplets separated at birth. They reunite, families are filled with joy, the guys are featured in newspapers and magazines. They are even put in a Madonna video and are celebrity television stars in the early 80’s featured on The Phil Donahue Show (and surely would have landed their own reality show if discovered today). It’s sensationalized, and if it would have been adapted into a feature-film 30-years ago it most likely would have been written as a melodramatic family affair that manipulates the heartstrings. It might even carry the “Based On a True Story” tag, which most of the time is far from it. So when one of the triplets looks at the camera and says, “That’s some Nazi ****,” Three Identical Strangers takes a dark tumble down the rabbit hole that leaves you outraged.
This film takes sinister turns and more than anyone could possibly guess. Mostly because the men and woman who were behind this story’s secrets are academics who were trained to help people in times of crisis, and decided to answer an age-old question without thought of their own moralities (that is to assume they had any to begin with). These boys might have met because of fate, but we find out they weren’t placed with their foster families by accident. This was planned by renowned child psychologist Dr. Peter Neubauer, along with the New York’s largest human service agency (the now defunct Louise Wise Agency), and the sponsorship of study by Jewish Board of Health and Family Services. Neubauer with his above-it-all group manipulators took Jewish orphans and placed them strategically, in the name of science, under families of different backgrounds and mental health histories.
Which makes this story even stranger is Neubauer was born in Austria and was a Holocaust survivor. Many historians draw comparisons with this study and the notorious Nazi twin experiments (as extreme a comparison as that is). Why would a man who escaped the Nazi regime plan an experiment that put human lives in danger of potential harm to their mental health? We won’t get any insight into this until 2066, the year the Jewish Board placed the study under lock and key at Yale University (presumably because of the backlash the study would have gotten. More likely though, the subject of the experiments would have passed on without knowing what had actually transpired).
The scene that left me cold has to do with Natasha Josefowitz, of all people. For those of you who don’t know her, she is an internationally renowned poet, author, and lecturer. Yes, somehow strangely (there’s that word again) she is involved in this study and a member Neubauer’s team. As she spoke I was struck at the pride she was exuding in this study and insisted that when the results are revealed, it will be “absolutely ground-breaking.” It is clear she thinks she knows everything about this study, and if true, she doesn’t care at all the damage that was done here. Here is an award-winning author and lecturer who on her website has a poem about poetry curing patients to start them on a healing journey, yet she is talking about a study that used children as pawns without regret, only pride. It’s a revealing look into someone who has no moral compass and doesn’t even know it. This is what the character from The Dark Knight, Harvey Dent, meant when he said if you live long enough you become the villain. It’s chilling.
Tim Wardle has put together an astounding documentary about the manipulation of free will, the power of deep pockets, and startling government overreach. It’s a combination of strange unlikely events and academics with disturbing moral compasses. Three Identical Strangers is remarkably gripping while leaving its audience outraged. Everyone who sees it should demand answers.
M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.