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Ahlskog, G. (2019). Documentary Deception: How Did a Film about Adopted Triplets Manage to Cause Such Misunderstanding?. Psychoanal. Rev., 106(2):189-201.

(2019). Psychoanalytic Review, 106(2):189-201

Film Note

Documentary Deception: How Did a Film about Adopted Triplets Manage to Cause Such Misunderstanding?

Gary Ahlskog, Ph.D.

Harry S. Truman's aphorism “There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know” is congruent with the psychoanalytic view that problems arise when history is misconstrued. This applies not only to childhood but also to contemporary politics and cultural life. One would hardly expect a documentary to add to the misunderstandings that plague our world. Tim Wardle's film Three Identical Strangers uses innuendo and omission to mislead moviegoers about psychoanalytic history and its so-called unethical research. People may not remember the title, may not even have seen the film, but all it takes is for someone to mention “that movie about the adopted triplets,” and someone in the room will chime in with some fragment or impression of this story that happens to be false, such as the notion that Wardle discovered psychoanalysts doing “Nazi shit.”

The first half seems like a “feel-good” movie. Three identical male triplets, separated at birth in 1961, serendipitously discover each other at age nineteen. They had been adopted by families in different socioeconomic classes and given yearly psychological tests. The story of their reunion went viral. They were reported to have been mentioned in every newspaper in the world. Besides their identical physical appearance, Bobby, Eddy, and David had all been wrestlers, smoked Marlboros, liked Chinese food, and made audiences laugh when they talked about having the same taste in women. (Footage of the trio's wives shows no similarities.) They joked together, partied together, shared an apartment, and opened a restaurant in New York City that did $1 million in its first year.

In the second half of the film, the relationship among the brothers fragments just as the movie does.

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