Seahorse

Review by Hannah Woodhead @goodjobliz

Directed by

Jeanie Finlay

Starring

Freddy McConnell

Anticipation.

Strong festival buzz for this one.

Enjoyment.

Finlay's great strength here is allowing her subject to entirely speak for himself.

In Retrospect.

A fascinating, vital story told with heart and tenderness.

A transgender man’s pregnancy is the subject of Jeanie Finlay’s tender, essential documentary.

The trials and tribulations of childbirth are well-documented in cinema, but in Jeanie Finlay’s tender documentary a unique story of new life comes into rich focus. Freddy McConnell, a 30-year-old trans man, is desperate to start a family of his own, and Finlay is his companion on this long and arduous journey.

Together they chronicle his extraordinary struggle to fulfil a basic human desire that so many often take for granted: to create and nurture human life. Taking its name from that male seahorses carry their offspring, the film challenges perceptions of pregnancy and parenthood, as well as providing a touching portrait of modern identity.

We join Freddie as he is working through the biological logistics of bringing a child into the world. One gains a sense for the strange, clinical rigmarole of it the process – buying sperm from the internet, attending appointments with various medical professionals. So many films extol the sweeping romance of childbirth, but for Freddie, it’s often a lonely, draining affair. Aside from the physically and mentally exhausting aspects of actual pregnancy, he is forced to contend with society’s open hostility toward the trans community.

As such, he retreats into small, safer circles – but even the people closest to Freddie who ultimately mean well sometimes display a frustrating ignorance regarding his pregnancy. Freddie maintains an admirable stoicism, though Finlay is adept at saying so much with a lingering camera – we notice the tiredness creeping in, and gain a sense for how truly soul-destroying it must be, being forced to justify your existence at every turn.

In allowing Freddie to tell his own story through self-taped sequences and minimal directorial interference, Finlay provides a voice to a community often rendered voiceless or shouted down by louder voices. At a basic level, it’s a simple story, about a human being trying to bring another human being into the world, and Finlay avoids flashy touches or flourishes, favouring a naturalistic approach that allows the subject – fascinating and heartbreaking as it is – to really resonate with the audience.

Freddie is forced to confront his own naivety and the unforeseeable challenges that his pregnancy brings, including the physiological changes he must undergo, devastating after he has spent so long trying to feel comfortable in his body.

Yet for all the hardship Freddie has to endure, Seahorse is also full of hope, resilience, and a whole lot of love. His mother is a beacon of support (all the more important given the difficult relationship Freddie has with his father). And, when Freddie meets his new baby for the first time, all the pain fades into background noise.

The old adage suggests it takes a village to raise a child, and Finlay’s film feels like a quiet but powerful step towards a more understanding society, in which individuals are not only granted autonomy over their own bodies and reproductive rights but find acceptance too.

Published 30 Aug 2019

Tags: Jeanie Finlay Seahorse

Anticipation.

Strong festival buzz for this one.

Enjoyment.

Finlay's great strength here is allowing her subject to entirely speak for himself.

In Retrospect.

A fascinating, vital story told with heart and tenderness.

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