By: Brendan Graham
Ah, Netflix, our new true crime home. They’ve filled our lives with kidnapping cases, murder, and scandals. Anyone with a morbid curiosity has dived into the catalog the platform offers, and gotten more details about cases we only briefly remember hearing about on TV. When scrolling through the endless sea of documentaries, I came across OUR FATHER, a documentary by BLUMHOUSE. Without reading any more about it, or even watching the trailer, I hit play with no idea what to expect (except the poster art had a creepy-looking doctor on it, so that was enough for me.) OUR FATHER is an intriguing and shocking story, that stumbles while trying to present it to the audience, and ends up feeling a bit messy.
Director Lucie Jordan’s OUR FATHER tells the story of Jacoba Ballard, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman in a dark-haired family, who out of curiosity about her origins, ended up using a DNA ancestry service called 23andMe. When she gets her results back, she is shocked to find that she has seven half-siblings. As she begins to research and contact these other half-siblings, Jacoba begins to discover that there is a dark secret that connects all of them - their DNA matches a fertility doctor in Illinois named Dr. Donald Cline, who inseminated dozens upon dozens of women with his own sperm.
The office was supposed to use samples from donors that couples and women could choose from, and they were delivered to be used in artificial insemination. What Dr. Cline often did was sneak off to his office, collect his own sample, and without getting any consent or permission, violate these women by using his own seed. Families are torn apart, identities are questioned, and the biggest question on everyone’s mind is, why would he do this? OUR FATHER attempts to answer those questions, but doesn’t give enough information to the audience to really address this at all (possibly from lack of information from the Dr. himself).
Documentaries have a big struggle content-wise. They need to be both entertaining and informative, otherwise, the audience may lose interest or find it to be biased. OUR FATHER carries a tabloid-like presentation, going for shock value over proper presentation - including some unnecessary sounds and motions, like when Dr. Cline is getting his samples together. Every time Dr. Cline insists that the number of his children is fairly small, we get a visualization of the number increasing - although it’s kind of tasteless that we need to hear a grown man moan when that number goes up.
We established pretty early on that Dr. Cline is a grotesque coward, so having to constantly reinforce that felt a bit redundant. The story needed to focus more on the victims, and the families affected, but often those scenes are dumbed down by unnecessary recreation sequences that are groan-worthy and quite poorly executed. Some of the more heartbreaking scenes include family members explaining how their lives were torn apart by the news of the DNA tests, grown children questioning their own identities, and fathers finding out their DNA wasn’t used. The overly dramatic music and editing take away from these moments, however.
As far as the ‘Why’ is concerned, we are presented with a few interesting theories, including one that involves a cult or how this ties to religion, but those quickly taper off and leave us wanting more information, and thus we are unsatisfied. OUR FATHER also dabbles with how grossly unfair the court system in Indiana is, and that power can often be bought, especially when you’re a rich, white man of privilege. Lawyers explain how they couldn’t charge Dr. Cline with sexual assault, and these are some of the most informative sequences of the film. Prepare to get angry.
OUR FATHER has great potential, but it falters, and we end up with some sleaze and unease as a viewer. There is a lot of information that gets left on the table, theories that don’t get addressed further, and the victims of these crimes almost take a backseat while we focus on Jacoba and her attempts to take Dr. Cline down. It is always difficult to review a documentary, mainly because there are real people involved and real trauma, so my opinions are about the presentation and not about what happens - because the whole situation is pretty terrible. Definitely give this a watch if you're curious.
OUR FATHER is now streaming on NETFLIX.