Synopsis: No one listened or paid attention to reports of neglect and abuse in the Hart family. Tragically, this failure by agencies charged with protecting children led to a murder-suicide at the hands of two women who were supposed to keep their adopted children safe. The documentary pokes behind the scenes and into the lives of what was once described as the “perfect family.”
Director: Gregory Palmer
Running Length: 88 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: As we’ve all come to see over the past year being largely isolated from the people, places, outings, and opportunities we’ve previously enjoyed, there’s power in social media. Our culture had already evolved pretty rapidly in its adaptation of a number of platforms to advertise and influence but it really took on a whole new purpose when it became, for many, the sole way of communicating when most of the country was put into lockdown. Up until then, it was mostly a source where people could post photos of the fun things they were doing and you weren’t, “Vaguebooking” about life events they wanted your support for but couldn’t share ‘all the deets’, and providing enough FOMO energy to fuel multiple missions to Mars.
With all of this comes a dark side, however, and it feeds off the needs of those who crave attention, respect, and admiration. These are the accounts that show how perfect life is on the outside to the casual onlooker while the truth is very different. Looking deeper, you see there is pain behind the bright smiles and a fear of discovery that hides within each new post. The desire for likes, follows, shares, and retweets becomes like a drug, an addiction, and soon it consumes everything until that is the entirety of a person’s world and worth.
Starting out, you wouldn’t think this documentary about the tragedy surrounding the fatal murder-suicide of two mothers and their six adopted children would get so thorny but Broken Harts (premiering on Discovery+) is a bramble bush that only gets harder to untangle. After a by-the-numbers beginning that was as dry as stale bread (it’s pretty much a just the facts retelling of the event and its immediate aftermath), director Gregory Palmer begins to circle some of the main issues at hand. That’s when it shifts from a staid true crime doc to a more probing look into a family everyone knew but no one really understood.
What motivated lesbian couple Jennifer and Sarah Hart to flee their Washington home without any (apparent) warning and drive off a cliff on the California coastline with their six adopted children was, at first, a giant mystery that many were intent on solving. The Mendocino police chief interviewed throughout made it a mission to accurately classify the cause of death to determine if this was truly an accident or what everyone feared it was…a purposeful act by the mothers against their young children. What he uncovered along with investigations by other governing bodies into the Harts previous places of residences revealed signs that in hindsight should have been red flags.
The film is short enough that I won’t go into the finer points of what Palmer reveals from his interviews with friends of the Harts and their children, this is for the viewer to absorb, contemplate, and judge for themselves where an intervening body could have stepped in. I do find it unfortunate that the acts of the women at the outset of Broken Harts paints a picture that is on one hand emblematic of the kind of advances in acceptance to same-sex parenting that we want to see (yay!) but then winds up showing that same-sex partners can be just as flawed as heterosexual ones. It’s when the children, that should be the focus, get pushed to the side that the trouble begins. Children first. Social media second.