Disturbing, yet utterly captivating, Lucie Jourdan’s Our Father tells the frighteningly true story of a group of siblings bound together by their shared biological father: their mothers’ fertility doctor.
Utilizing a combination of real-life testimonials, archival footage, and dramatic reenactments, the film follows the Cline siblings, spearheaded by Jacoba Ballard. Jacoba always knew she was a product of a sperm donor, but as an only child, felt a disconnect from children with siblings. Utilizing DNA and ancestry databases, Jacoba learns she has seven half-siblings.
As she connects the dots and finds more and more half-siblings, her investigation leads her to Dr. Donald Cline, a renowned and respected fertility doctor in the Indianapolis, Indiana area. Realizing the truth, Jacoba fruitlessly files a complaint with the Indiana Attorney General and hears nothing. She turns to the local press and a intrepid reporter to get the word out and bring Dr. Cline’s crimes to light.
Jacoba is the true driving force of the story. Her legwork on the investigation as well as her connection with her fellow siblings brings the emotion to the surface. As she explains, when each subsequent sibling finds out, it rocks their world and the world of their parents. It’s an empathetic viewpoint, but tinged with righteous anger.
Jourdan’s recreations are the key to the documentary’s success. Early on, it feels like a cheap trick, but there needs to be a personification of Cline since the actual man gives so little to anyone. Played with menacing banality by Keith Boyle, Cline is the obvious antagonist, but without the menace and outward evil you expect. The Cline siblings are all played by the real-life people.
Cline is an easy villain. He shows no remorse for why he did what he did. The siblings meet and discuss more nefarious possibilities on his actions, but it’s all just speculation. The documentary tells us enough about him to give us a portrait, but it has no depth on his psyche. He is an empty vessel which allows the worst fears to take over. The lack of motivation is the most terrifying.
While captivating, Our Father feels like only the first step towards some sort of absolution. There is no obvious happy ending and catharsis. There is a group of women who have been violated, there are a group of offspring whose lives have been a lie, and there is a disgraced man who faced little consequence.
It leaves you with an icky feeling, but one you won’t soon forget.
Our Father premieres on Netflix on May 11