Three Identical Strangers (2018)
Just saw this movie. The story is fascinating, but the movie is poorly made.
There seems to be a new sub-genre of documentary films. I don't know what to call it. But it all revolves around the trailer. I've been calling it "The HyperMysteryTrailer" genre. It goes like this: The trailer is for a documentary film. It sets-up an obscure true story, which has a series of incredible plot twists. It's suggested all this climaxes into a mind-blowing hyper-transcendent twist ending. The trailer's like: YOUR HEAD WILL EXPLODE WHEN YOU HEAR THIS SHIT!
There's a lot of documentary movies like this — they all have theatrical runs. And interestingly, when I observe my own viewing habits, I have gone to the theater to see many of these documentaries during their first runs.
Why? I was motivated by the base mystery in the trailer.
Even though I knew I could Google the actual story about what already happened, I didn't. I wanted to experience the unfolding of information as presented in the trailer.
Anyway, so I saw this movie.
The story really is fascinating. SPOILER ALERT. It's about a clandestine psychological study done on twins in New York during the 1960's. An orphanage split up twins and placed them in very different family conditions. A researcher would then study the differences of development between the separated twins over many years. The study was to determine the dominance of nature vs. nurture in human development.
The documentary follows the story of triplets who discover they were separated at birth because of this shadowy scientific study — and the repercussions of all this.
There's some interesting conclusion somewhat arrived at... but really this is where the movie falls apart: at the level of information unfolding. It felt unharmonious.
There's times when heavy emotional weight was driven toward false conclusions. Which would be fine except the conclusion the movie literally leaves you with at the end is glossed over quickly. It feels disconnected from the messaging of the rest of the movie.
The practical result of all this? The experience of the movie becomes a bummer.
Three Identical Strangers didn't have to be a bummer. I understand CryXploitation. Life is sad, people love to cry in a dark theater, I get it. But that experience doesn't have to end as a bummer. Good art should, ultimately, lift you up.
Won't You Be My Neighbor is a great example of a documentary which is highly cathartic, filled with tear-jerking moments, yet lifts up the viewers at the end.
The movie is a bummer because we don't know what to feel, but since sad is the closest thing we do feel, even though the film ends on a "positive note," you walk out of the theater so bummed. That's a flaw of the movie's construction, not its story.
Even the movie's basic rhythmic tension felt clunky: For example, many scenes unnecessarily dragged out its tension when we already knew what the conclusion of that tension would be. Instead of being gripped by what happened next, I was annoyed.
So, the film's use of tension & information was poorly exploited.
The best thing the movie has going for it (at the level of form) is that it does hit several emotional highs. You get swept up in their story. Violins swell. You feel their emotions as if they were yours. And so you get lost in the movie just for a moment.
The story on its own is fascinating.
Duplicates, doppelgangers, doubles, mirroring, etc is a highly cinematic subject. Shakespeare approached it in his Comedy of Errors. So a movie about triplets with footage of actual triplets is automatically interesting. But the story is fascinating.
One thing I found thought provoking was the segment about genetic predetermination.
It's a provocative sequence which suggests the conclusion of the twin study was that we are being driven by our genes and nothing more. And we see the twins talking about how similar they are even though they didn't grow up knowing about each other.
It makes me think about my own heredity. Who was the artist in my lineage? I'd love to know more about my deep ancestry as an opportunity to learn about myself. I had a little bit of that experience when I went to Cuba earlier this year. But I want to know more, dammit. I won't rest until I can hang the portrait of my conquistador ancestor.
The actual conclusion the movie semi-arrives at (because it never backs it with any research) is the idea that our early childhood environment is the most critical factor in our overall development. It reminds me of a quote by Russian author Isaac Babel —
"It could be argued that shouldering rifles and firing at each other might occasionally have its good points. But that is hardly a complete revolution. Who knows, it might not even be a revolution at all. It is important to bear children well. And this, I am fully convinced, is the true revolution."
It's an alright movie.
If you're trying to figure out if you should watch it or not, you probably should. What's the worse that could happen? It's entertaining. I just hold my art to a very high standard. Given the uniqueness of the story, a much better narrative could've been told.
Slimming it down considerably. This removes a lot of the unnecessary excess tension, which communicates nothing new. Then, with the added wiggle room of 30+ minutes, incorporate actual cutting-edge science that backs up early childhood confidence development, the neuroplasticity of the brain, and what the twin study says about us.
Give the audiences something for real they can sink their teeth into. Something that can change a life. Something that can leave everybody not just informed, not just entertained, but— for fuck's sake — better off!