Written by: Adam Vaughn | June 23rd, 2021
Father of the Cyborgs (David Burke, 2021) 3½ out of 4 stars.
David Burke’s thorough and captivating documentary on the real-life story of Dr. Phil Kennedy almost seems like science fiction. The man’s life and career were just that fascinating. Father of the Cyborgs perfectly depicts his phenomenal work through the combination of fun and illuminating cinematography, mesmerizing VFX and graphics sequences, and in-depth analysis of the process of controlling the human brain.
What makes Father of the Cyborgs such a captivating film is its frequent detachment from conventional documentary format. Burke not only uses interviews of Dr. Kennedy, his colleagues and his family, but also unique interviews that aren’t necessarily predictable. Interviews alone threaten would make the film a lifeless look at science and tedious to the viewer. Instead, Father of the Cyborgs finds numerous ways to visualize the science, sometimes showing stock footage of the actual documented medical procedures that Dr. Kennedy performed and other times taking the film back to the early ages of testing the mind through tests on animals.
All the while, an almost overload of information is contained in the film, including Kennedy’s upbringing and background, as well as existential discussions of the repercussions of tampering with the brain. In many ways, Father of the Cyborgs comes across as a narrative work, following a relatable and genuine character as he experiences success and failure and is driven and motivated by both to experiment on himself. Effortlessly, the film creates a looming sense of drama as we both root for Kennedy to succeed and dread what may happen to him if he fails horribly whilst risking his own brain.
Director Burke’s greatest achievement with Father of the Cyborgs is very much the complete analysis of the content and finding various ways to keep things moving without the viewer losing interest. The end result is a wide array of emotional moments, many gratifying curiosity but also horrifying (as we see unimaginable procedures) as well as a bit heartbreaking, as not all of Dr. Kennedy’s processes (and patients) succeed, and he inevitably risks everything. But the result is a lifetime of achievement, captured marvelously by this marvelous film.