Documentary explores triplets' separation

"Three Identical Strangers" documentary director Tim Wardle tells CNN's Michael Smerconish what was learned from an experiment that separated triplets at birth.

Posted: Jul 23, 2018 4:27 AM
Updated: Jul 23, 2018 4:37 AM

"Three Identical Strangers" is an astonishing documentary, a look at how a feel-good, made-for-TV "separated at birth" story took on an unexpected, more sinister tone.

Tim Wardle's film, a CNN Films project, works on multiple levels -- from an underlying mystery to medical ethics to a rumination on the nature-vs.-nurture debate. Entertaining, thought-provoking and filled with surprises, it scores the equivalent of a cinematic hat trick.

For those who don't remember the story, the tale began in 1980, when a pair of 19-year-old college students, both adopted, were understandably shocked when they were mistaken for each other on campus. A third triplet saw the two in the newspaper, and their fame mushroomed, as dutifully documented by clips of the trio appearing together on morning programs and "Donahue."

At first, it was too good to resist -- guys separated at birth, who shared all sorts of traits and habits. The story created the 1980s version of a media feeding frenzy, which -- given the less-populated waters of the time -- offers its own delicious sub-thread.

The three, moreover, instantly started hanging out together, parlaying their new-found celebrity into the sort of fast-paced, club-going lifestyle that New York could offer at the time.

Soon enough, though, questions began surfacing about how and why the three -- Eddy, David and Bobby -- were separated. And the answers to that prove unsettling, taking the story in wholly unforeseen directions.

In the process, what began as a novelty act veers into the realm of tragedy. Wardle has left no stone unturned in chronicling this story, and even with the voluminous video record that's unearthed -- and extensive interviews with the brothers, adoptive parents, spouses and others -- some maddening gaps remain regarding what happened, and why.

Saying too much, frankly, risks spoiling the sharp turns that the narrative takes, but the result is sobering -- inviting contemplation about the very nature of what makes us who we are, as well as the horrifying notion that people might have exploited children, with no say in the matter.

Everyone is in the market now for sensational fact-based stories, but it's rare to run across one as enforced, with as many layers, as this one. In terms of a tale where the truth is not only stranger but more compelling than most fiction, "Three Identical Strangers" hits the jackpot.

"Three Identical Strangers" will open June 29 in the US.

UPDATE: This article has been updated to add that "Three Identical Strangers" is a CNN Films project.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 34622

Reported Deaths: 1215
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds282449
DeSoto186519
Madison141936
Jones118549
Harrison109615
Rankin106315
Neshoba103976
Forrest97243
Lauderdale95481
Scott80915
Jackson74418
Washington70010
Copiah64215
Leake62120
Lee60022
Oktibbeha58928
Holmes57941
Warren57720
Grenada5698
Wayne56018
Yazoo5486
Lowndes53613
Leflore52856
Lamar5227
Lincoln51935
Pike48820
Sunflower4708
Lafayette4644
Monroe43935
Panola4326
Covington4295
Bolivar39418
Simpson3843
Attala38324
Newton36710
Adams34719
Pontotoc3396
Tate33313
Marion32412
Claiborne30011
Winston29611
Chickasaw29319
Pearl River28132
Noxubee2778
Marshall2763
Jasper2716
Clay25611
Walthall2497
Union24611
Smith23712
Coahoma2196
Clarke21725
Lawrence2022
Yalobusha2028
Kemper18314
Tallahatchie1784
Carroll17411
Humphreys16110
Calhoun1605
Montgomery1513
Itawamba1458
Tippah14411
Hancock14113
Webster13411
Jefferson1223
Tunica1213
Jefferson Davis1184
Prentiss1173
George1123
Greene11210
Amite1083
Quitman971
Tishomingo971
Wilkinson969
Alcorn942
Perry794
Choctaw754
Stone732
Franklin542
Sharkey470
Benton440
Issaquena101
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 49892

Reported Deaths: 1077
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson6219167
Mobile4625138
Montgomery4397111
Tuscaloosa258652
Madison19839
Marshall190411
Shelby155724
Lee153537
Morgan12415
Baldwin117011
Walker105631
Elmore100721
Dallas9789
Franklin92816
Etowah91914
DeKalb8647
Russell6650
Chambers66427
Autauga66214
Butler64529
Tallapoosa62569
Unassigned61627
Limestone5963
Houston5616
Lauderdale5556
Cullman5546
St. Clair4842
Colbert4816
Lowndes48022
Escambia4688
Pike4675
Calhoun4565
Coffee4164
Covington40312
Jackson4022
Barbour3772
Bullock37610
Dale3721
Talladega3677
Hale34323
Marengo34211
Clarke3036
Wilcox2998
Chilton2952
Winston2925
Sumter28713
Blount2811
Marion26714
Pickens2626
Monroe2553
Randolph2489
Conecuh2278
Perry2242
Bibb2151
Macon2129
Choctaw20912
Greene1929
Henry1463
Washington1367
Crenshaw1263
Lawrence1210
Cherokee1157
Geneva950
Lamar871
Clay822
Fayette811
Coosa631
Cleburne421
Out of AL00
Tupelo
Clear
74° wxIcon
Hi: 96° Lo: 75°
Feels Like: 74°
Columbus
Clear
72° wxIcon
Hi: 95° Lo: 72°
Feels Like: 72°
Oxford
Clear
70° wxIcon
Hi: 94° Lo: 74°
Feels Like: 70°
Starkville
Clear
70° wxIcon
Hi: 93° Lo: 72°
Feels Like: 70°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather