By Chris Nashawaty
June 28, 2018 at 02:06 PM EDT
Courtesy of Sundance Institute

The best documentaries reveal the ways in which truth can be stranger (and wilder and weirder) than fiction. And director Tim Wardle’s stunning and tragic Sundance sensation, Three Identical Strangers, is stranger (and wilder and weirder) than most. You really need to see this film to believe it actually happened.

With a movie with as many shocking, whiplash twists and turns as this one, it’s best not to know too much going in. So I’ll keep this review as spoiler-free as I can. But basically the film begins by introducing us to a 56-year-old man named Robert Shafran. On the surface he couldn’t seem more unremarkable. But that all changes when he tells the story of what happened when he showed up for his first day of college in 1980. As a new student, he didn’t know anyone there. But they all seemed to know him. Total strangers kept walking up to him and slapping him on the back and asking how his summer was. And, oh yeah, they kept calling him Eddy.

Soon, one of his fellow students figured out that Robert must be a twin with an identical brother who had attended the same school. After a long night of driving, he wound up at the house of Eddy Galland, staring at someone he never knew existed and who looked just like him. It was like staring into a mirror. Says Robert, “The door opened and there I am!” It turns out that they had ben separated at birth and adopted by different families. This fluky coincidence led to some press coverage, including an article in Newsday. One reader looked at the two smiling, reunited 19 year olds in the accompanying photo and thought to himself: Is that David? David was David Kellman. And no, it wasn’t him in the picture. The two men were his brothers. They were triplets!

Since this was the ’80s, what happened next included sensational articles in tabloids and appearances on TV shows like Donahue. Like some sort of Warholian carny attraction, the three brothers were trotted out and regaled audiences with how they had the same taste in women, how they’d all smoked the same brand of cigarettes before they met, how identical they were in the smallest of ways. It seemed like a slam-dunk for nature in the age-old scientific debate of nature vs. nurture. They became inseparable and eventually moved in together as roommates in go-go Manhattan, hitting nightclubs, partying hard, and even opening a restaurant in Soho called Triplets. They even made a cameo in the Madonna movie, Desperately Seeking Susan.

This is the giddy, feel-good part of the movie. But sadly, it doesn’t end there. What follows next takes a dark and haunting turn that will leave you shocked, saddened, and ultimately outraged. I’m sorry if this review feels abrupt and cuts off just when things are getting interesting, but trust me, you’ll thank me after you see the movie. And you need to see the movie. A