Three Identical Strangers (2018)
PG-13 for pretty mild stuff. From time to time, there's some mild language. Apparently, the three boys went on a bender once they all grew closer. This was described as "sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll." It's a tame movie that really isn't for kids. Like, if my kids walked into the room, the content wouldn't be bad or anything. It's just that there are some really dark sides to humanity in the film and I'm not exactly excited to show that to them. If you were checking things off, PG. If you are giving it context, valid PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Tim Wardle
I saw the trailer for this and thought "I have to see this." Then, I forgot about it. Yeah, I'm not exactly on top of everything. I know that it seems like I have it together, but...okay, I actually have it pretty together. But still. Life happens. When I saw that this movie was on Hulu, I just put it on. I didn't tell my wife what it was about. I just watched it. I actually might have read an article of the Top 8 documentaries you can stream right now. THAT'S when I decided to watch it. IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THIS, PLEASE STOP READING. Spoilers are what make or break this movie. It's one of these films that was described as being better if you know as little as possible about it beforehand. I completely agree. I knew the bare bones premise: three separated triplets accidentally find out about each other, not knowing that they were triplets ahead of time.
The first twenty minutes seem like the most optimistic film of all time. My wife kept saying "...and credits." It was this remarkably uplifting film about triplets finding each other and becoming best friends. How great is that?! Man, maybe we just need some twenty minute documentaries all about how great life is. Wait, that's Upworthy. Upworthy is the worst. Whatever happened to Upworthy? Doesn't matter. What I care about is that the movie takes a hard right turn and goes into a moral conundrum where you don't think that one exists. It oddly becomes hard-hitting when you would think that a movie would be pretty cut and dried. I was watching my kid at the playground and the parent next to me was talking about her twins and how different they are. Of course, being the turd that I am, recommended Three Identical Strangers. I explained her the line that I said about the three boys finding each other and told her I didn't want to go any deeper for fear that spoilers would ruin the film for her. Like most people, she responded by saying that it seemed like a pretty short premise and she didn't know how the film could expand to a full length film. That's the thing. It actually presents a pretty compelling moral argument that goes beyond the initial response. AGAIN, WATCH THE MOVIE FIRST! Okay, everyone ready? We all know the message the movie is presenting. It is about the fine line between science and morality. My analysis may not go that deep because the filmmakers really did that. Some documentaries have messages. Some don't. Three Identical Strangers really wears its theme on its sleeve. That's fine. It's actually kind of necessary. These boys were a science experiment. I knew that there was a scientific element to the story, but Three Identical Strangers grounds what irresponsible science looks like. These boys were separated on purpose. They had a biological background of being predisposed to mental illness. Yet, the scientists found three intentionally different households. Now, there's a scene in the movie where one of the lab assistants comes forward and claims that she didn't know that she was doing anything wrong. I kind of believe her. When I look to the past, applying woke 21st century morality to what was going on back there is just a means for making ourselves feel better. But does that let people off the hook? From a scientific perspective, a set of triplets with the same conditions act as a control for science. It's rare that something like that works out the way it did. If I was completely cold and distant and I had these ambitious ideas, I could see how this is an ideal situation. I have to think about my role as a parent and how many times I have to tell myself, "They're probably fine." I know, it's a dark element of parenthood. But that moment exists. Today, at Meijer, they wanted to look at the horsey. It was just out of view and the cashiers around me knew that they were there. So I said "They're probably fine." But I'm not a scientist dealing with other people's kids. What they wanted to accomplish was somewhat altruistic. It would have changed the way we view parenthood. They were studying what was the relationship between nature and nurture. Did socioeconomic class really determine the quality of the parent? They picked three people who had done a fine job raising another orphaned child. One was poor. One was middle class. One was rich. They placed these triplets, one in each type of home. They then observed them under false pretenses. It's super gross from an outside perspective, but it makes sense scientifically.
But if the entire message of the Butterfly Effect was to come into play, that's what is going on here. No scientific experiment is truly objective or controlled, especially when it comes to people. There is a worst case scenario that can play out and that's what this film explores. Again, these kids came from a place of mental illness. Apparently, that's pretty common in adoption situations. It's not absolute, but it is more common than not. The worst case scenario is that one of these kids may be violent or cause self-harm. Sure enough, one of these kids did. All the data was there in front of the scientists. Sure, the potential was remote. But suicide is such a fragile thing. Depression isn't an easy thing to deal with under ideal conditions. I'm amazed that all three kids didn't commit suicide. If the point of the experiment was to see that people were biologically predisposed to certain traits, why would this factor be part of it unless that was the ultimate test? I believe that the people who ran this experiment did so with the best of intentions. It would completely change how we parent our children, knowing that genetics did the majority of the heavy lifting. But like a lot of the experiments that had a human component, there's so much more at risk for so small a payoff. Yeah, the brothers really demonize the scientists past the point where I go, but I also didn't lose one of my brothers due to this experiment. I also didn't lead a lie for the majority of my life. This kind of leads into something else: the importance of expectations on people. When I was in high school, they brought in a hypnotist. Of course, I was a volunteer. Like most of the people on the dais, I made a fool of myself. But I also knew what was really going on in that moment. I think about it every time I hear the word "hypnotism." You want it desperately to be true. I did silly things up there because it would be really lame for everyone if I just was a cynic about the whole thing. Pretty much, I'm a sheep. The beginning of the movie really sold the idea that these three kids were almost exactly the same, despite distance and socioeconomic background. That's a really fun idea. But the second half of the movie was that they played up what they had in common more than they didn't. They all smoked Marlboros? Well, that's terrible that they are all smokers. But a lot of kids their age smoked Marlboros. They had similar tastes in girls? Okay, that's true about a lot of guys. There's even the moment that is in the trailer where they all cross their legs and answer in unison. That's pretty rehearsed. It also isn't really in unison. It's close. They aren't doing these things as a matter of trickery. They just loved the idea like we all enjoyed the idea. It's really an interesting story. We want so desperately for these three to be the same person. But they also need to express their own personhood.
Why is it that we want these kids to be the same? I suppose it is a tie to the love for Upworthy that went away over time. We want the world to make more sense than it does. It doesn't directly point to God, but it does kind of get close. We want the universe to be a little cheeky. It's kind of why we tend to compartmentalize the horrible things that are part of nature. I know that some people really enjoy the dark side of nature. But the need for these kids to be the same actually brought them a degree of celebrity. They were able to open their own club and restaurant. But the opening of the club and the fallout that ensued is really interesting from a sociological position. My weird obsession with Kitchen Nightmares and Hotel Hell have wired me to fear the restaurant business. It seems extremely hard. It actually seems kind of impossible. I don't know how restaurants exist. But it is fundamentally the venue of the intense and precise. One of the brothers seemed to have his head really wired around it. He worked hard. But there were brothers who hated it. One of them left. Considering that the restaurant is built around the idea that the three brothers all love the place, one of the brothers leaving kind of was a death knell. America's obsession that they were all the same person kind of destroyed their lives. I think they liked it for a while, but when the older version of the brothers show up for the interview, it was kind of a shock. It's almost like the documentary stressed the opposite narrative that was being pushed. The boys didn't even really look like each other. Well, not as much as they used to. But they look like normal brothers. There was such a difference in all of them. They still carry the same DNA, but what do we think connects that to likes and dislikes? Because they were kind of living a lie, they grew to dislike each other a bit. When one of them died, it was a wake-up call that this false life that they were living was toxic. They volunteered to sacrifice their personalities to the masses. I can't say that I blame them. I would love / hate to hang out with another me. Also, think of the fear that comes with a brother dying. The guys mention that they all struggle with depression. I never would have to view my body in a casket. Even if you weren't the one to discover the body, which has to be traumatic for anyone, you would have seen your own body in the funeral. Everyone stressed that they were the same. They believed that they were the same. They were living together and the one that died seemed like he had it the most together. He had a family. I don't understand suicide, especially in context of having a family. I'm not judging, but I can't help but stand in the other brothers' shoes. They look at this body and how do you not make your mortality your priority forever? It just seems spooky to me. For all the blessings that come out of this, it seems like there was a bigger toll than people were really comfortable in imagining.
I can't go that deep into this movie. Director Tim Wardle nailed it. He showed the goods and bads. The boys vocalize the implication of everything that happened in the story. It's a really interesting documentary that goes to a level that I would never have expected, especially considering the topic. It's a disturbing world and it is hidden behind joy and smiles. The movie isn't full on depressing, but it does seem like a conspiracy theorist's nightmare. Check it out. It's on Hulu. It really is one of the more bizarre documentaries out there right now.
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Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.