Three Identical Strangers (Wardle, 2018)

This is the kind of documentary film you’d show to a university data methods class while rapping the desk with a pointer and shouting ETHICAL STANDARDS MATTER. It’s pretty much how Wardle goes about setting the story, the moral in big red letters just a stone’s throw away as he drops more and more crumbs to feed our curious souls. What’s rather odd, though, is how Wardle seems to be participating in the very practice he wants to condemn. Surely condemning a sensationalist science experiment shouldn’t be done in a sensationalist way. You don’t get to retell a story that has so many moving parts like a thrilling and salacious mystery yarn when such thrills and salaciousness have led to so much heartbreak and catastrophe. It’s also a bit condescending to the audience, who are able to clock in that there’s a talking head missing about an hour before you even get around to mentioning why. You can just say at the outset: “So and so is not in this film because of this reason.” We’re not going to prematurely switch off our attention spans as if that’s the only thing we came into the film wanting to know.

The process is dubious, and knowing this dubiousness is the best way to watch this film. It gives you an idea of how artificially Wardle sets this all up, and how manipulative it tries to be. Then you can push aside the manipulation and focus on the wickedness at the heart of the story, which involves an inhumane level of deceptiveness for an end result that never came to light. It’s incredible how far people are prepared to go in the name of science, and I don’t know how to comprehend the tactical level of duplicity used to basically ruin countless lives. It’s fucked up. There’s no better way of putting it. Now, if the film dug into this even more, and gave us some insightful commentary on the broader picture of ethics and its integral role in scientific study, this really could have been something close to a landmark documentary. Wardle’s gamesmanship really undercuts that, I think, and the insights we’re left with—while important—don’t feel quite as cogent as they should be.