‘Our Father’ (2022) Review: How the Gruesome Secrets of One Man Covered the Lineage of Many
CW: this article mentions sexual assault, rape and sensitive content.
Directed by Lucie Jordan, Netflix’s documentary Our Father, is a stomach-churning and disturbing story of a renowned and disgraced fertility doctor inseminating his patients with his genetic materials without their knowledge. The twist in this story is that, while performing these without the patient’s knowledge wasn’t a crime, the consequences were dire.
Jacoba Ballard had always suspected that she was an adopted child. She looked completely different compared to her parents and always wanted a sibling when her mother unveiled the truth: she was conceived through donor sperm. Her mother was one of the many women that reached out to Dr. Donald Cline, the only fertility expert who specialised and offered artificial insemination services in Indianapolis. His practice included taking a fresh sample from a male donor or a medical student donor and injecting it into the patient. However, what Cline did was far from what happened and the truth is revealed to be a sinister act that destroyed the lives of many people.
After Ballard was informed that since the doctors had used a medical student for donor sperm and they would never use it more than three times. Then, she began her journey of self-discovery by resorting to 23andMe to find possible matches — hoping to find other siblings. But to her surprise and shock, she found seven siblings. Ballard began to investigate and reached out to the matches and tried to find their father; At the beginning, she assumed that they all had a paternal parent. However, as the number grew, she found out that they all had one thing in common — Dr. Donald Cline.
This subject matter sets up the entire documentary. Ballard’s journey to find the answers to Cline’s intentions and the ugly truth of his beliefs. All of the Cline half-siblings that are featured in the documentary, work on trying to hold him accountable for his actions and the damage he had caused for them, physically, mentally and emotionally, as well as the breach of trust to their parents. The documentary shows the numbers roll count, and it grows and grows to the point that it becomes nauseating. By the end, the sheer number of half-siblings’ discovered reach to a shocking 94.
While the documentary humanises the half-siblings’ traumatic experiences, it mostly presents re-enacted scenes of the children confronting Cline and the mothers entering his clinic. As a result, the final product comes off constant and repetitive. Ballard is the only sibling seen to be investigating and reaching out to the other half-siblings, and this happens repeatedly. The same revelation happens before it then it moves to the new half-sibling. Even when the documentary focuses on the horrible acts done by Cline, it doesn’t focus on the emotional side of their feelings. The mothers, who were misled and lied to by someone who they should have felt safe with, were given a much briefer time to talk about their side — the emotional and traumatic aftermath of their story.
As the revelations take half of the story, the other subject matters that are introduced are only mentioned and not properly discussed. The problem with the documentary is that it seems as though it only tries to explain the problems only on the surface level. We don’t know much about the half-siblings’ lives, other than they have multiple health issues due to Cline violating their mother’s trust and inseminating them with his genetic material. Cline’s religious belief is questioned, especially the Quiverfull, a community (perhaps cult is a much-suited word here) that pushes an ideology and white supremacy that believes in fathering blond, blue-eyed Aryans. None of these subjects is explained or investigated properly.
Indeed, the subject of Our Father is both horrifying and disgusting. The documentary does a great job at showing how much the half-siblings fought to get their voice heard and emphasising the evil nature of his actions. Jordan humanises the patients and the mothers and presents how one man’s action caused years of trauma for them. “He raped me fifteen times and didn’t even know it,” one of Cline’s patients states in the documentary. Additionally, the film goes to show the systematic nature in which women are continuously silenced and manipulated against their best interests. This documentary highlights how the repugnant acts of one man violated his patient’s trust and bodily boundaries, and Our Father will finally tell Ballard and many of her half-siblings’ stories, never to be silenced again.
Our Father streams on Netflix on May 11th.
Edited by: Raayaa Imthiyaz