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Identical Twins Who Look Nothing Alike

Mar 27, 2019 | 757 videos
Video by Jonathan Braue

Adam and Neil Pearson are identical twins, but you’d never know it from looking at them. Although they share the same DNA, their appearances are vastly different; each suffers from neurofibromatosis, a rare genetic disorder that has affected them in divergent ways. They tell their story in Jonathan Braue’s deeply affecting short documentary, The Pearson Twins.


“I was always aware that I had the same condition as him, but also fully aware that he had the facial disfigurement and I didn’t,” Neil says in the film. Adam suffers from benign tumors that began forming on his face when the Pearsons were boys. They grew progressively worse over time. In school, he endured much bullying—“one of the worst things a human can do to another human,” as he describes it in the film. As an adult, Adam explains that he can never go anywhere without being gaped at. Neil, meanwhile, appears physically unscathed but experiences neurological problems that severely impair his memory.


Despite their individual plights, the twins share an unshakable bond and a penchant for resilience, which has led them to develop an inspiring perspective on their situation.


“Adam and Neil’s story challenges the perception of what it means to lead a good life,” Braue told me. “With Adam, I was awestruck by how he never allowed his disfigurement to define him. Within five minutes of talking to him, the fibromas on his face almost seemed to melt into the background—his radiant persona comes to the foreground because he is a great human being with so much love and wisdom to share.” Braue was similarly moved by Neil’s determination to grow and learn through repetition and habit. “What you or I would quickly pick up by reading the rule book for a new board game,” he said, “he would have to read dozens of times while playing the game repeatedly to get the same base knowledge.”


While the effects of neurofibromatosis undeniably continue to shape their existence, neither Pearson twin wishes that things were different. “You’ve got to live the life you’ve got, rather than pining after the one you wanted,” Neil says.


Braue hopes that his film will help people see the merit in remaining curious about those with disabilities, rather than resorting to what he calls the “primal defense mechanism” of othering. “Instead of allowing a preconceived notion of a person to take hold in your mind,” he said, “approach that person and ask questions. Having the curiosity to understand someone’s disability is the best way to show them you care.”

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Author: Emily Buder

About This Series

A showcase of cinematic short documentary films, curated by The Atlantic.