Review by Sean Boelman
Another true crime documentary with a story that is so crazy it just has to be real, Hannah Olson’s Baby God is about as baffling and disturbing as they come. And even though Olson’s straightforward storytelling almost prevents it from working as well as it could, the story is strong enough to speak for itself.
The film tells the story of a fertility doctor who, over a period of more than thirty years, used his own sample to inseminate his patients, leading his children to seek out one another in an attempt to understand the truth. This isn’t a movie that deals in twists or surprises, mostly laying out its story at the beginning, but it manages to shock nevertheless.
One of the weaknesses of Olson’s approach is that she tries to balance too many different perspectives. The film tells the story mostly from the perspective of the children, but there are also portions that explore the angle of the eponymous doctor or his victims. And at a certain point, it just becomes all too much in less than eighty minutes.
It often feels like there is a lot more to this story than Olson is revealing, and it’s hard to tell whether this is done out of respect for the victims and children, or because of a simple lack of information and materials. Either way, when the movie tries to approach the psychological aspect of the doctor’s story, it feels frustratingly incomplete.
The film also comes up short in discussing the ethical angle to this story. Obviously, what he did is not right and violates the relationship of trust that should exist between doctor and patient. However, one interviewee suggests that the doctor was simply doing his job the best way he knew how, and it’s rather absurd that Olson just leaves this point hanging rather than immediately refuting it.
That said, the movie does offer an interesting discussion of the changing technology in the field of genetics. At one point, someone questions whether or not he would have been able to get away with his actions with modern knowledge of genetics and the ability to have a paternity test becoming much easier and less taboo.
This film is made up of a lot of interviews. There is a lot of talking and people telling their stories, and at a certain point, it becomes somewhat monotonous. Of course, one of the things that makes this story what it is is that it was barely documented, if at all, but a bit more variety in the style of presentation would have been welcome.
Baby God checks all of the boxes for the true crime documentary, but one can’t help but feel like this could have been even more riveting. Perhaps with a more confident and experienced director at the helm, this insane true story would have made for a more cinematic watch.
Baby God is now streaming as a part of the 2020 DOC NYC festival, which runs November 11-19, 2020, and will participate in encore screenings from November 20-29. It airs on HBO on December 2.