“The L-RD is slow to anger, and plenteous in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generation.” – Numbers 14:18, JPS 1917 Tanach
The pivotal question to keep in mind, during the entirety of this documentary, has to do with the perennial Nature vs. Nurture controversy, that was a focal point of psychological research and debate, especially throughout the years the movie narrative covers, until more recently when it was decided that both nature and nurture influence the development of a human being, without giving superiority to one or the other.
Individual insights, in regard to the nature vs. nurture question, from persons interviewed in the documentary are shared at the end of the movie; certainly, their comments are reflective on the experience of the three brothers, separated at birth, for the purpose of studying this question. An experiment that was admitted to be unethical, in retrospect, by a research assistant, who participated in collecting information for ten months, during the years the experiment was in effect, between 1960 and 1980.
As another person, who was a personal assistant of the psychiatrist, who carried out the twins study, explains at the end of Three Identical Strangers, psychology in the 1950’s and 60’s was a blossoming science, held in much regard, because of its potential to aid in better understanding human beings; yet, this does not take into account the potential negative ramifications upon the lives of the human beings that are being studied. The documentary cleverly reveals, midway into a movie that seems to celebrate the ongoing joy of the triplets reunion, how there was another facet of the story that speaks of the darker side of human nature.
All three triplets exhibited disturbing behaviors in their respective cribs, after being adopted by three different families. This is attributed to the separation anxiety that they must have felt being separated from each other at such an early age. Each triplet was placed in a home environment different from the other two, inclusive of socioeconomic differences and differing parenting styles. The intent as disclosed by the research assistant was to determine the influence of parenting styles.
This seems to be the focus of the study, to gain an understanding of nature, predetermined genetic character traits, vs. nurture, in the form of parental upbringing and family environment. Yet, as the documentary follows the persistence of all those concerned, as well as an investigative journalist, who covered the story at the time, this may only scratch the surface of the intent of the study; it seems that another factor may have been predisposition to mental illness.
Some of the insightful comments revealed at the end of the documentary appear to be in favor of the primacy of nurture, as well as the opportunity to overcome negative character traits through free will. Human beings may assess their own behavior, and make changes for the good. This position is implied in a stance derived from Torah, that negative qualities may be passed down for three to four generations; however, they can be changed by the continual efforts made by an individual, who seeks to change, regardless of the influence of genetic character traits (nature) or any observational learning that may have occurred in the family environment (nurture).