Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 24, 2018 11:45 pm 
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Such knowledge

As Daniel Engber says in a review for Slate,"Three Identical Strangers Has a Long-Lost Twin" - another film that covers the same ground. This "twin" is The Twining Reaction. Both films are documentaries about the misguided - to put it politely - study set up by Viola Bernard and Peter Neubauer, that was supplied with infants by Louise Wise Services, twins, and in one case triplets, who were separated at birth and put up for adoption, then studied, without the twins (or triplets) or their adoptive parents knowing they had identical siblings. Recently Tim Wardle's Three Identical Strangers was released and has gotten a lot of publicity. It turns out Wardle's film has a "twin," started by Lou Shinseki at about the same time, with less funding, a shorter film (55 minutes instead of 96), finished and released a year earlier than Three Identical Strangers' January 2018 Sundance debut.

Wardle's film of course focuses on the dramatic and highly publicized story of the three triplets who discovered each other in 1980 at the age of nineteen. Shinseki's goes over that story too. It also, like Wardle, goes to Michigan to interview Lawrence Perlman, a researcher with the Bernard and Neubauer twin study for a year, who has revealed what was kept secret and so enabled two twins, Doug Rausch and Howard Burack, followed by Shinseki, who met in their thirties, to know they were in the study. The Slate review goes over how "uncannily" the two films "twin" each other, including the same shots of the "twin study" specialist and New Yorker Writer Lawrence Wright's files, and so on.

Shinseki's film doesn't play so dramatically with the triplets story. It cuts straight to the chase: there was this study in 1960 that split up twins in cooperation with the Louise Wise Jewish adoption agency in New York for this study that it didn't tell the subject or the adoptive parents about. I can't find any better term than the one used by one of the triplets: it was "some Nazi shit."

"The twinning reaction" is a unique bonding process that is believed to occur between twins early in life. Neubauer claimed that the twins in the study were separated before that process had occurred, so the separation would not be painful. Viola Bernard claimed that raising twins separately had benefits for the twins. Shinseki's film points out that neither claim was true. One of the triplets committed suicide. Shinseki's film finds a female twin who committed suicide. Another female twin is found, who finds her identical sibling (who refuses to be filmed).

Other identical siblings in the study, including Howard, and the triplets, turned out to have had emotional problems that suggest a sense of frustration and loss, a vague, indefinable awareness that something was missing from their lives - their identical sibling, whose existence had been hidden from them, but which they remember from infancy.

No one interested in this shocking, absorbing story would want to miss the excitement of Three Identical Strangers. If the topic interests you, you will want to see both films. Shinseki's shorter film in some ways presents the issues more clearly. It also tells more about lawyers used by Doug and Howard to try to get access to their files from the study that were the sealed and deposited at Yale and Colombia.

Doug and Howard's recent meeting with Lawrence Perlman is revealing. The data was rich, but the study was a mess, Perlman informs us. Bernard and Neubauer did not know what they were doing - even though there turns out to be analysis done on their data into the Nineties. Perlman has records showing there were ten twins - five sets in the study (that doesn't count the triplets - and there must have been others?). Pearlman admits he has now come to see better - forty years later - how deeply mistaken the study was. He got out of it, after a year, realizing it was too badly conducted to be fruitful for his doctoral work. This is a final irony the subjects are troubled by. Nothing wold have justified this traumatic, damaging human experimentation - this "Nazi sit" - without the subjects' or their adoptive families' consent. But this work was fruitless. Data was collected but nothing was concluded, nothing was learned.

An interview by Shinseki with the widow of Eddy, the triplet who committed suicide, is particularly revealing: Eddy could not get over the sense of those lost eighteen years. As happy as the reunion of the triplets was, for Eddy the realization of those lost years was "devastating." "He could not get over it." He committed suicide at 34, fifteen years after discovering his identical siblings. This adds to the trauma for the remaining two triplets.

Doug and Howard got access to more data from the secret twin study about themselves. They were together six months before they were separated - sharing a crib in foster care; so were other twins. The more we, and the subjects, learn about the details of the study, the more disturbing it is. Three of the study twins remain separated and unknown to each other; and an unknown number of other twins were separated by the Louise Wise agency, not in the study.

The Twinning Reaction, 55 mins., "played on the festival circuit from early 2017" (Slate), including Rochester and Atlanta; it is not listed on IMDb. Screened for this review as part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. Shown at 3:25 Tues. 24 Jul. 2018 at CineArts, Palo Alto: at 2:15 Fri., 3 Aug., at Piedmont Theater, Oakland.

A TV show shows more about what Shinseki's investigations revealed.

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