When medical malfeasance is coupled with a God complex, the results can be devastating for the victims as seen in Netflix's latest true crime documentary Our Father, which is based on an Indianapolis fertility doctor who inseminated an untold number of women with his sperm without their consent.
Director Lucie Jourdan paints a vividly disturbing portrait of the man in question, Donald Cline, using the physician's own words and actions to corner him, while wisely and compassionately making the narrative as much about the victims and their adult children.
The storyline is both powerful and dramatic as the audience experiences a roller coaster of emotions as the details of his misconduct pile up, and a vehement sense of revulsion over inexcusable behaviour that destroyed the lives of families that had once put their trust in him.
The common features -- blue eyes, blonde hair -- that the children of the victims share with Cline, and hereditary medical conditions that are passed on from him, all make for disturbing scenes.
The sense of violation that this narrative entails is virtually palpable, and Our Father certainly communicates that.
One aspect the filmmakers could have dug deeper into was the lives of the victims, which could have helped to offer a wider perspective.
Depicted in both the interviews and re-enactments as cold, uncaring and unremorseful, Cline makes for a great horror villain, a despicable old man who opts to twist Bible verses to suit his cause.
The layered subject matter in this film makes it a fascinating watch, at its best when it just lets the victims divulge their stories.
This movie is strongest when it focuses on them: the mothers like Liz White and Dianna Kiesler and their children. Each recollection from a mother explains their desire for a baby, their joy of having one, and their heartbreak and utter disgust at discovering how their desires were toyed with and manipulated in a fiendish act of wickedness.
At first, we see how the victims continue with their lives believing their child's father was an unnamed medical student, or in other cases, their respective husbands. Decades later, though, through DNA tests, the now-grown children are not only discovering unknown half-siblings, they're learning that Cline is their father, a traumatic experience that leaves many of them with more questions than answers.
A lion's share of the film is told through the eyes of Jacoba Ballard. Because of her blonde hair and blue eyes, in a family of brunettes, she always wondered about her origins. She was the first to use the DNA test, 23andMe, and in the initial stages establishes seven other half-siblings. She goes on to connect the dots, eventually spearheading the investigation for other half-siblings.
Wider, more sinister secrets are also disclosed, like how the doctor would slip away to his office to masturbate at the same time his female patient sat desperate and vulnerable -- both emotionally and physically -- in an adjoining hospital room. An inherently grotesque moment to watch.
The lingering question is what compelled this once-respected physician to continue using his sperm to inseminate his patients without their knowledge? These were people who couldn't conceive on their own and had turned to Cline as a last resort.
The dramatic declarations of the adult children are poignant. The most unsettling being: "When you get a new sibling alert, you're thinking, 'Please don't let it be somebody I know. Please don't let it be somebody I dated'. And I'm sure it's bound to happen." This touches a nerve as the audience can feel their obvious palpable sense of fear and concern.
But this issue was an across-the-board concern for the Cline half-siblings, as the numbers continued to grow. This unfolds just as we are informed by a former assistant of Cline that he had assured his patients that the same donor would not be used for more than three samples, to avoid the ethically reprehensible scenario where a bunch of people with the same father was occupying a small geographical area. This could hypothetically end with half-siblings marrying each other, unaware of the truth. What a quandary to be in.
- Our Father
- Starring Donald Cline, Jacoba Ballard, Debbie Pierce
- Directed by Lucie Jourdan
- Now streaming on Netflix