Although I love getting lost in fictional worlds through novels, I also love the realities that documentaries bring to light. I sometimes find myself binging scientific documentaries because the human race's pursuit of knowledge always intrigued me.
Unfortunately, Three Identical Strangers directed by Tim Wardle sheds light on a story that is too cruel to be real. Never have I felt as enraged and horrified about the lack of morality in humanity as when I watched this documentary.
The documentary, which was released in 2018, focuses on triplets, Bobby Shafran, David Kellman, and Eddy Galland, born in the 1960s who were separated months after birth as they were adopted into three different families.
19 years later, by chance, the three were reunited, and their story became a viral sensation. They became celebrities as they appeared on talk shows where audiences gushed over their similar tendencies even though they only recently reunited. The families were awed by how the three instantly clicked as if they belonged together. They decided to move in together in New York and start their own restaurant which was cleverly named Triplets. It was as if they were making up for their lost childhood.
That last thought caused a shift in my mood. These triplets were supposed to grow up together, bicker with each other, and maybe even get into a few fights here or there, but they were robbed of this chance.
Coincidently, the documentary also took a shift in tone. The families felt deceived by the adoption agency, called Louise Wise Services, as they were not told that they were adopting a baby with siblings. They claimed they would not have split the siblings up if the fact were known.
Among many other similarities, the triplets also found that they were monitored in their childhood by strangers that would come in periodically and observe them.
It was later revealed, by journalist Lawrence Wright who had contacted them, that their entire lives were a set-up as part of a study.
Their story was one of many twins, triplets, and siblings split up with intent to collect information on a study by Dr. Peter Neubauer that looks at the debated idea of nature versus nurture.
Yes-- Shafran, Kellman, and Galland were intentionally sent to lower class, middle class, and upper-class homes with differing parenting styles for the study.
How can one decide to ruin someone’s entire life like that? The triplets, as children, were tested, filmed, and not to mention scarred by the assistants’ mental and behavioural tests conducted for the study. The parents were only told that the study was on adopted children and not separated siblings.
It angers me that Neubauer treated these children as “lab rats” and would go to lengths, such as causing a lifetime of pain for the individuals and families involved, just for a study.
There were many ethical lines that were crossed; the first was the adoption agency knowingly separating the children. The newborn triplets spent months together before they were adopted, and immediately the analysts could tell that the children could feel the separation as Shafran would violently harm himself.
Another ethical line was crossed when the analysts noticed the signs of abnormal behaviour but kept it to themselves instead of informing the families. That decision right there cost somebody’s life.
What is even worse was that the study was not even published, as the findings are currently being held under seal at Yale University, with the intention of release in 2065. Why? The participants of the study will not be around at that point.
The release of the documentary caused enough buzz and pressure on Yale to release the psychological observations to the individuals and families involved in the study, but all the data was inconclusive. Much of the data remains under lock as siblings and twins who unknowingly participated in the study still do not know that they were a part of it, or that they have siblings.
This was not some fictional narrative with a villain; this was a cruel reality that was forced upon children by an unethical group of people.
If you ever have a chance, I highly recommend watching this documentary. It is something that evaluates the ideas of humanity and how that separates us from other living species. It makes one think to what ends should someone go in pursuit of knowledge and whose responsibility it is to stop those that go too far.
**Cover image is the documentary poster via IMDB. All credit to the original owners of the image.