The documentary Three Identical Strangers chronicles the surprise meeting at age nineteen of identical triplets separated at birth. All were adopted, and none knew they had brothers until their own eyes insisted it was true. They became a sensation in 1980, appearing on talk shows and written about in newspapers - a novelty. And if that’s all you knew about them, you would have a warm feeling that they had found each other, and that their reunion was a psychic homecoming.
But that’s just the opener. Questions are raised: why were none of their parents told that their baby son was a triplet? The adoption agency clearly knew, and kept it secret. And as more secrets unfold, the young men’s story takes on a darker tone. While the film certainly considers the nature vs nurture debate - which wields greater influence over developing children - it also delves into ethical issues far more important.
What follows may be more than you want to know, before you see this movie.
And on a note that reverberates through our modern society, it challenges us to look at what we do to each other in the name of pursuit of knowledge. Whether we’re talking about the Tuskegee study in which poor black convicts were deliberately infected with syphilis then observed (but not treated), or the psychology experiments at Harvard in the 60s in which Ted Kaczynski (later known as the Unabomber) was a subject/victim, surely it’s time to be asking some hard questions about ethics, and whether the harm done to these guinea pigs is mere collateral damage in the discovery of great truths, or if that harm says more about the researchers, and taints their findings with the heartlessness or even sadism of their methods.
I’m inclined to the latter conclusion. The Hippocratic Oath states, “First, do no harm.” Once we lose sight of that, we abandon our humanity. Subatomic physics tells us that we cannot observe even particles without altering their behavior - how much greater the interference then, when those under observation are sentient beings? What did the researchers learn, versus the extent to which their experiment damaged the lives of their subjects? And since the study has never been released, there’s no understanding or discovery to balance against the harm done by isolating babies from their siblings, with whom they shared a womb and a few scant months before being separated.
This film’s not just entertainment - go see it and consider the questions it raises.