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.

Cases: 501097

Reported Deaths: 9990
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34338538
DeSoto32117403
Hinds31939628
Jackson24494382
Rankin21995390
Lee15543235
Madison14581280
Jones13851242
Forrest13453251
Lauderdale11991317
Lowndes11050188
Lamar10521135
Pearl River9533237
Lafayette8550140
Hancock7732127
Washington7438158
Oktibbeha7146131
Monroe6777177
Warren6694176
Pontotoc6664102
Neshoba6637206
Panola6531131
Marshall6467134
Bolivar6317148
Union602894
Pike5820152
Alcorn5669101
Lincoln5436135
George496879
Scott472898
Tippah469281
Prentiss467281
Leflore4658144
Itawamba4636105
Tate4588111
Adams4587119
Copiah448592
Simpson4446116
Yazoo444187
Wayne439772
Covington428894
Sunflower4239105
Marion4226108
Coahoma4160105
Leake408288
Newton381779
Grenada3707108
Stone360364
Tishomingo359792
Attala331589
Jasper329965
Winston314291
Clay308076
Chickasaw300367
Clarke292494
Calhoun279446
Holmes267987
Smith264050
Yalobusha234047
Tallahatchie228051
Greene219348
Walthall218763
Lawrence212940
Perry205556
Amite205156
Webster202946
Noxubee186740
Montgomery179656
Jefferson Davis171743
Carroll169138
Tunica159839
Benton148838
Kemper141941
Choctaw133426
Claiborne132737
Humphreys129538
Franklin120228
Quitman106428
Wilkinson105139
Jefferson94534
Sharkey64120
Issaquena1937
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 819597

Reported Deaths: 15406
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1147901924
Mobile725791338
Madison52306697
Shelby37597350
Baldwin37245552
Tuscaloosa35101612
Montgomery34106740
Lee23526246
Calhoun22225488
Morgan20941378
Etowah19825500
Marshall18361304
Houston17384412
St. Clair16054339
Cullman15443293
Limestone15343199
Elmore15241286
Lauderdale14302295
Talladega13836283
DeKalb12649261
Walker11202370
Blount10192176
Autauga10043148
Jackson9871184
Coffee9210191
Dale8897185
Colbert8860201
Tallapoosa7084198
Escambia6772134
Covington6712183
Chilton6641162
Russell636659
Franklin5959105
Chambers5607142
Marion5005127
Dallas4973200
Pike4795106
Clarke475584
Geneva4571127
Winston4516103
Lawrence4321117
Bibb425186
Barbour357776
Marengo338090
Monroe331464
Randolph329764
Butler326396
Pickens316284
Henry312666
Hale311388
Cherokee302860
Fayette292880
Washington251551
Cleburne247760
Crenshaw245275
Clay243368
Macon234663
Lamar224147
Conecuh186153
Coosa180240
Lowndes175164
Wilcox168839
Bullock151644
Perry138840
Sumter133038
Greene126744
Choctaw88527
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