*Three Identical Strangers*

Few movies serve up more social science.  Imagine three identical triplets, separated at a young age, and then reared separately in a poor family, in a middle class family, and in a well-off family.  I can’t say much more without spoiling it all, but I’ll offer these points: listen closely, don’t take the apparent conclusion at face value, ponder the Pareto principle throughout, read up on “the control premium,” solve for how niche strategies change with the comparative statics (don’t forget Girard), and are they still guinea pigs?  Excellent NYC cameos from the 1980s, and see Project Nim once you are done.

Definitely recommended, and I say don’t read any other reviews before going (they are mostly strongly positive).


I've reviewed a lot of nature-nurture movies over the years, although the average quality hasn't been high. For example, Charlie Kaufman's "Human Nature" is surprisingly terrible. There's a new feature film called "Birthmarked" with Toni Collette and Matthew Goode raising three children as part of a billionaire's experiment in the power of nurture that has gotten uniformly bad reviews, although the few minutes I saw weren't awful. It looked like a funny "Royal Tennenbaums."

Here's my review of "Project Nim:"


Ronald Reagan's "Bedtime for Bonzo" is above average in this genre, with a decent performance from Reagan, although he's outacted by Bonzo:


Jaffa and Silver's 2011 "Planet of the Apes" reboot was quite intelligent, although the sequels were dumbed down:


my favorite "nature nurture" movie is "Harvey". (Check out the quotes on IMDB or a site like that, there are lots of good ones)

Watch the "flyspecks, I have been chasing flyspecks" scene a few times. Then picture what Akron meant to the great psychiatrist, mumbling about Akron. That poor fellow had thought a lot about nature and nurture, I guarantee you ....

Jacques Tourneur and "Cat People" was pretty good too - imagine you are born a human but you are also sort of a leopard. Where do you draw the line?

Movies are all bad, of course, because you have to be (a) rich and (b) connected to make a movie. SO instead of one in a hundred or one in a thousand movies being good, only one in a thousand or one in ten thousand is good. But hey this is 2018 and there are a hundred thousand movies out there, so the top one percent of the top one percent is a big category .... (leaving aside the fact that this is not really 2018, but I am just about the only person who thinks that, so I won't harp on it....)

(Fill in here the best ten minutes of any movie you ever saw. IF there is NO nature or nurture insight in those ten minutes, rinse and repeat. Eventually you will get to where you want to go. For me, that would likely be somewhere in one of Eric Rohmer's later movies, ((or somewhere in a few other movies that I am not going to mention here because no matter what I say you are going to find them for yourselves, or not)), for you it might be somewhere else)

Harvey is a funny name.

Harvey is the six foot tall rabbit. And Harvey is not his real name.

Elwood is the human. You would probably think that the name Elwood sounds funny until you imagined what sort of people would give their child such a name. And, to follow up, your thoughts on what those people were thinking would be less than useless unless you were fluent in American English,

American English as it existed 110 years ago. One's heart rejoices to think that there is a single individual in this world who understands American English of 110 years ago as much as I would hope ...

You see what I mean when I say this is not 2018?

Hollywood loves the nature-nurture thing and keep coming back to it. But surely the most famous examples are Gattaca and Trading Places. TP is fun but skips out on serious discussion of the issue.

But Gattaca is more interesting. Not least for getting fairly good performances out of Ethan Hawke and Jude Law. Although Law's characters demise is not properly explained. However on the science it is woeful. If genetics is linked to health, and if Mr Hawke gets into the Space program by faking good health, can the sheer power of his will stop his heart failing off Jupiter? Has he actually endangered or killed his crew mates through perverse stubbornness and a refusal to accept the facts?

Just last week or the week before Koko, another fake sign language using ape, a gorilla this time, died.

Oh, can I shout out to the Arnold Schwartzenegger film Twins as well. Where obviously his twin brother is Danny DeVito.

And perhaps the most weird of all - Boys From Brazil. I suppose there is no way in polite company to even hint that it is a shame such an experiment was not carried out? It would certainly have put the nature-nurture debate to bed.

My favorite movie is actually One Flew Over the Cuckold's Nest.


thanks, fixed...Tyler

So, part of the site redesign does seem to mean we have lost the chance to reliably know who the real Prof. Cowen is - at least in the comments section.

Here's a still from the 1985 movie "Desperately Seeking Susan" of the triplets' cameo with Madonna:


No spoilers if you don't follow any links.

The cameo is in the documentary as well. My wife worked for the triplets at their restaurant. They were very different. She and her coworkers would sit around and talk about how it was far more nurture than nature.

Not triplets, and mostly Bollywood masala, but Amar Akbar Anthony was a hit back in the day: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amar_Akbar_Anthony

And I can't resist the title song:

Spoilers ahead (from the past five minutes' googling the story, not seeing the movie):

I couldn't help but think of the story John Colapinto told in "As Nature Made Him", which for sheer bleakness, misconduct, and mid-century Freudian voyeurism, I don't think anything can touch. Running them together in my mind: five boys, four penises, three suicides, two social scientists. IQs of 148 in one case, below average in the case of David Reimer and his twin brother. But David seemingly exemplified this evidence for nurture: flashes, in the book, of wisdom, earned through deep suffering. For instance, he, not the author, has the courage to utter the saddest truth of all - that the story is less that the man in the lab coat acted on the belief that a baby boy who has lost a penis in an accident, is a girl - than that a boy who has lost his penis - is nothing.

I will say it goes a bit far to fault the researcher in the triplets' case for the apparent (probably pragmatic) policy of the adoption agency of sending multiples to separate homes. There's a little Henrietta Lacks' Derangement Syndrome going on, it appears.

With the other story in mind, one wonders if there was similar inappropriate prompting/questioning of the triplet boys, that might have contributed to their rather early sexual experiences. Or if the visits by the psychologist created a like dread.

I read that the researcher influenced the placement to the extent that the children went to homes with "different parenting styles."

So, if anyone has seen it (I won't be): which parenting environment did Raskolnikov grow up in?

Take Cowen's advice and don't read any more reviews, but here is one you can put away until after seeing the film that is written by a twin: https://www.thedailybeast.com/three-identical-strangers-the-disturbing-true-story-of-triplets-separated-at-birth

The nature-nurture question will probably not be answered by a movie. Just guessing about that. It's pretty obvious why parents, maybe most people, are rooting for nurture. As my sis says, why would she be doing all this BS parenting crap if it didin't make a difference?

Of course, it does make a difference, just not the difference you want it to make.

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, so they say.

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