November 10, 2018 – Twins, separated at birth, somehow find each other. That is a pretty incredible true story in itself, but then it turns out to be triplets, an even better story. That is just the beginning of this amazing documentary film about identical triplets, Edward Galland, David Kellman and Robert Shafran, their families, an adoption agency, and scientists carrying out a secret experiment.
This film is not only a fine piece of journalism and storytelling, it is also a well-crafted narrative about how three people and their families were all affected by an ill-conceived experiment gone wrong. Along the way, it explores the relationship between inherited characteristics and how they are affected by the environment in which these three people grew up.
The story begins with Robert Shafran going to college as a freshman in 1980. It was his first day of school. He didn't know anyone, but a lot of people seemed to know him. Students welcomed him back like he had been there recently. A student, Michael Domnitz, absolutely knew he wasn't who he seemed to be. Domnitz asked him point blank, “Were you adopted?” Then, “Were you born on July 1?” Astonished, Shafran answered yes to both questions. Domnitz correctly deduced that Shafran had a twin brother he didn't know about, and the two men immediately set out to visit Shafran's supposed twin.
The two students raced to Edward Galland's house, many miles away, where the identical twins were reunited. The story made the papers, which attracted the attention of the third triplet, David Kellman, which completed the amazing and joyful reunion of three identical brothers, separated at birth. The story amazed everyone, including the journalists covering the story.
The three brothers found out they had a lot in common. For one thing, all three had been wrestlers in high school, all three liked Chinese food, all smoked the same brand of cigarettes, they had similar mannerisms and tastes. It was a remarkable example of the power of genetics over the environment in which they were raised. All three came from different family backgrounds, Shafran was raised in an upper class family, Galland was raised in a middle class family, and Kellman was raised in a blue collar family.
The triplets became international celebrities, they appeared on talk shows. Their story was featured in magazines and newspapers all over the world. Due to their celebrity, they even opened a successful restaurant called Triplets in New York City. It seemed like a storybook ending at first, but darker chapters were to come.
Why had the triplets been separated at birth? Why had the adoptive parents not been told the boys had brothers? The parents asked the adoption agency what was going on, but got misleading answers. An investigative journalist, Lawrence Wright, eventually broke the story about how the triplets were part of a secret experiment. The families of the boys had been deliberately selected, and the truth deliberately withheld from them to further the goals of the experiment.
In the end, the film raises more questions about this experiment than it answers, mainly because the data from the experiment was never properly analyzed and published. The data was tied up in a secret archive, but this film helped to get the data released to the brothers themselves, at least. The doctor in charge of the experiment, Peter B. Neubauer, had died long before the film was made. The remaining people involved in the experiment who were willing to speak on camera seemed to have only small pieces of the picture to reveal.
Were the emotional problems of the triplets, and the twins who were part of the experiment (identical twins were also involved in the experiment, and one pair of twins also appears in the film) the result of the conditions of experiment itself? What were the criteria used for choosing the biological parents of the children in this experiment?
Drinking problems, suicide, manic depressive behaviors and other psychological problems of the experimental subjects are part of this story, which continues to unfold, even now, after the completion of the film. There is more to this story than this film can show us, but director Tim Wardle and the other journalists who have looked into this incredible story have done a good job uncovering as much of the truth as they can.
This is an excellent documentary film, one of the year's best. The central story is compelling, of course, but it is expertly edited together. The structure of the story is to lay out the dots and then connect them as the story goes on. It gives us clues and then reveals to us how those clues fit into the story. It is a bit manipulative at times, but overall, it is an outstanding documentary film. This film rates an A.
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