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Sundance Notebook: ‘Nature vs. Nurture’ gone wild

January 20, 2018 GMT

There’s a phrase in the first “Jurassic Park” movie, where Jeff Goldblum’s character says, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

I couldn’t help but be reminded of that sage rebuke after seeing the premiere of the joyous-turned-disturbing documentary “Three Identical Strangers” at the Sundance Film Festival. It seemed like all fun and games early in the documentary as triplets, separated at birth and adopted into different families with no knowledge of their siblings coincidentally stumbled across each other when they were 19.

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The story of their reunion was so astonishing, the three became celebrities of a fashion, making the rounds on the talk show circuit of the day, even opening a successful restaurant in New York called Triplets.

Much like peeling back the layers of an onion, however, director Tim Wardle gradually begins unveiling more and more of the story until in the end the audience in the brand new Ray theater was left somewhat shell-shocked. In the beginning, it was pointed out, everyone noticed all the things the boys did the same -- despite growing up under completely different circumstances. But maybe people should have been focusing on ways in which the boys were different.

Without giving away too much of the story, it turns out the boys were intentionally split up -- as were an undetermined amount of additional identical siblings who were adopted out of the same agency in New York -- as part of a specific study examining the age-old “Nature vs. Nurture” debate.

It seems almost impossible to believe -- and yet it happened. Worse yet, results of the study have never even been released.

“This was really well thought out,” said Bobby Shafron, one of the three triplets, in the Q&A following the screening. “I don’t want to say ... well ... I can say anything I want. It was an evil scheme.”

David Kellman, another of the triplets, said they had basically been treated as lab rats.

“They refer to us as participants,” Kellman said of the researchers. “We weren’t participants. We were victims.”

The last line of the documentary should really give everyone who sees it reason to pause.