‘Baby God’ Review: Sins of the Father

The Nevada obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Quincy Fortier had blue eyes, a beaked nose and a bullish drive to work until his 90s, solving his patients’ fertility problems by secretly impregnating them with his own sperm. He died in 2006 just as online genetic testing allowed generations of his “success” stories to learn what he’d done. This answered some questions — Why are my eyes blue? Why was I a misfit geek in a family of extroverts? — while presenting other mysteries that Hannah Olson’s documentary “Baby God,” streaming on HBO Max, meditates upon rather than vainly attempts to solve. “Do you want to say your father was a monster?” ponders one child, now in her 50s. “And what does that say about you?”

What it might say, when you gather the fragments of this studiously unsalacious film, is that the surest test of human connection is empathy. Many of Dr. Fortier’s offspring, particularly those who seem to have inherited strands of his personality, like Brad Gulko, a geneticist, and Wendi Babst, a methodical retired detective, want to find good intentions behind his lies. Ultimately, they learn they can’t. One son finds that his mother, one of Dr. Fortier’s first patients in the 1940s, never meant to have children, but accepted that her boy was a gift from god. Another son discovers that his mother was the doctor’s 17-year-old stepdaughter who had been gaslit into believing her boy was a virgin birth.

Olson’s poetic b-roll and Will Epstein’s soft, pulsing piano score buff away the lurid shocks. Two of Dr. Fortier’s legally adopted daughters briefly mention he was also a self-circumcised hypnotist. The movie also offers a peek into the Wild West of women’s health in 1960s Las Vegas when, as one of the doctor’s barfly male colleagues grins, nearly three-quarters of the town was female with a sizable fraction of showgirls. A very different film could be made from these tangents that Olson avoids. And it probably will.

Baby God
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 18 minutes. Watch on HBO Max.

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