Spoiler Alert. I highly recommend you watch the movie before reading
I watched the trailer for Three Identical Strangers end of June this year. I was fascinated. Not just because this was a story of adoption but because it seemed too incredible to be true. The dramatic music, the reenactments and the hints of something dark and murky behind their story seemed irresistible.
The movie played in a theater near my home but I couldn’t carve the time to go watch it alone. Yesterday, it was released on streaming services like iTunes and Amazon Prime. I promptly bought it and shut myself in my study to watch it.
The premise of the movie is this. Triplets were separated at birth and they found each other by happenstance. The movie digs into why they were separated and what was the outcome. It turns out that not just these triplets but many multiples (identicals) were split at birth and placed into specific homes for a study that spanned two decades. The results of that study were not published. They lie in the archives at Yale only to be unsealed after October 2065. They will lie at Yale long enough for it to be past the lives of the babies they played with to be over. The youngest of the babies placed will be 104 by that time.
I went to bed angry and woke up with the same feeling of anger and disquiet. If right after the movie was over, my anger was just at the architects of the study and the people who perpetuated it, this morning my anger encompassed a whole lot more. I woke up with more questions than I cared for.
- Identical siblings were separated to find out what influences parenting had on their lives. This was a study where families had “control” children placed first and then three years later, triplets split up and placed in families of varying socio-economic strata, varying degrees of parental involvement and varying attitudes to raising children.
- The movie stresses a whole lot on the similarities between the children, relying heavily on archival footage and hints at darker stuff. When it comes time to dig and dig deep, we get a glossed over, airbrushed version of the stuff that we should be talking about. The dark pit of mental illness, what separating children from their families and siblings does to them. We should be hearing from the siblings in the family placed as the control. We don’t. I get the privacy concerns. I get what it is like to be the subject of intense scrutiny. I truly do. But this was a stupendous effort that could have kicked open the doors to discussion and truly made a difference to adoptee voices out there clamoring to be heard. It stops short of doing that.
- The study itself was initiated and conducted between the 60s and 80s stopping only after the triplets found each other and became viral sensations of that time. The movie does a poor job of situating attitudes toward adoption, the secrecy and how little was done to center children in adoptions then.
- In the present time, this story could have done a lot to kickstart conversations on what separation from birth family does to children. The movie stars three brothers separated and reunited. There is a lot of focus on how they bonded and later drifted apart. It does precious little to hone in on the details, to lay bare the trauma that comes with that. The impact it has on the families and the people who surround the adults grappling with trauma.
Especially in our current political climate where our administration is actively separating children from their families, this movie is powerful and much needed. It maddens me that it could have done so much more but falls short. I truly hope it reaches a wide audience and kickstarts discussion that has long been swept under the rug.
As a mother who adopted twins, this movie hit me particularly hard. I suspect this will be immensely triggering for anyone associated with adoption especially adoptees.
Take care, my tribe.