Seahorse opens with images of two bodies nearly transposed upon one another. The first is a seahorse, swimming in the bright ocean; the second is Freddy, the main subject of Jeannie Finlay’s documentary. Both are titular in nature. Freddy McConnell, a transgender man, is compared in metaphor to a seahorse as the film follows his journey to have a paternal pregnancy. The name fits brilliantly with its alignment with nature, birth, and beauty.
Freddy sets his plan in motion with CJ, who is his life partner at the time. He stops taking testosterone and begins with folic acid pills — his first bottle is labelled with a “pregnancy” sticker, which he symbolically saves for safekeeping. Seahorse is littered with close, specific details similar to this, from the construction of a new bed for the home to discussing sperm donors. It serves as both a narrative, as well as an in-depth personal collage.
After a failed first pregnancy, CJ and Freddy part ways, deciding they aren’t fit to raise a child together. Freddy continues on the path to pregnancy, and his next fertilisation attempt is successful. The rest of the film captures every celebration and every bump in the road. Freddy avoids most negativity to prevent unneeded stress atop the usual difficulties of pregnancy, but faces aversion head-on when he must. Online, people belittle him for committing an act against nature. He faces push-back from his father, whose lack of support has left Freddy uncomfortable for years. As he sends an email notifying his father of the pregnancy, Freddy reflects on their relationship and his trans identity. Without it, Freddy questions, perhaps he would be easier to understand – and love.
Through Seahorse, Finlay is able to eloquently map the emotional peaks and valleys of the hormonal journey. As Freddy transitions off of testosterone, he feels like a certain loss of self. This is the most intimately powerful piece of the film; it is a journey with hopes of an epic conclusion but, alongside that, it is a study of Freddy’s growth into the role of a father. We get to see him cross out the words “she” and “mother” in his pregnancy handbooks, replacing the words with their masculine version to align himself in the role. Men should experience pregnancy, argues Freddy, and Finlay is able to show why through his story.
Seahorse is ultimately a film about companionship. Twice throughout the film, Freddy discusses his idea of loneliness, coming to the conclusion that one only realises they are alone when there is a person of meaning in their life. For Freddy, what once was CJ becomes his new baby. He agonises letting the child go for the night, anticipating reuniting with him at sunrise to a new day full of life. Companionship is a gateway to intimate happiness. As soon as we see Freddy holding his newborn baby, it is clear that he has found the understanding love he seeks and deserves.
by Fletcher Peters
Categories: Reviews, Women Film-makers
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