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[Tribeca ’21] ‘Father of the Cyborgs’ review: A question of ethics

Taking control.

Father of the Cyborgs seems like a wild science fiction story at times. In the 1990s, Dr. Phil Kennedy made headlines when he planted electrodes in the brain of a paralyzed man and taught him to control a computer with his mind. In 2014, he traveled to South America in order to continue his research on himself. The documentary looks at what happened and the ethics involved.

The benefits behind brain-computer interfaces is explained early in the film. The idea is to help people with severe disabilities since there are few other options for them. Father of the Cyborgs also argues how humanity has enhanced itself since the beginning of time. This includes talk of ballpoint pens and how typewriters were initially created for the blind.

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The cold open makes it clear Dr. Kennedy’s research is not universally accepted, however. There is an ominous air as comments about ethics and self experimentation are played. Father of the Cyborgs is not going to look at an open and shut topic. After the beginning, it does take a while before talk of mind control and who be in charge is broached again. 

[Tribeca '21] 'Father of the Cyborgs' review: A question of ethics

When Dr. Kennedy feels he is forced to conduct the experiments on himself, is when Father of the Cyborgs is at its best. While his bravery is commended, many label the neurosurgeon as a mad scientist. As he makes more breakthroughs, it becomes harder to comprehend why he has trouble securing funding. Writer and director David Burke makes things understandable even to laypeople, which makes things easier to follow.

This means when ethical questions are brought into question, Father of the Cyborgs is more accessible. When things become more emotional in the documentary’s final act, it is a little odd. But in the context of what the film is about, it makes complete sense. Things are erratic, but the film is a powerful and interesting look at many different subjects.

The Tribeca Film Festival takes place from June 9 – June 20

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