Seahorse: The Dad Who Gave Birth


A daddy’s baby bump.

(2019) Documentary (1091Freddie McConnell, Esme McConnell, CJ. Directed by Jeanie Finlay

 

Timing can be everything. For Freddie McConnell, he is fixing to turn 30 and he is anxious to start a family of his own. He wants to have a baby, but he is a trans male, transitioning from being born female who has had surgery above the waist but not yet below. What he wants is not unheard of, but not easy. It means having to interrupt his journey to the gender he is supposed to be; it will mean telling family and friends what he has chosen, knowing that not all of them will be supportive. It will mean never-ending second guessing, wondering if he is doing the right thing for the right reasons. They are legitimate questions and there are no easy answers.

I have often heard women comment that men would be different creatures entirely if they could give birth; most women agree that no man who can be completely bedridden by the man-flu could tolerate even a few days of being pregnant, let alone the pain of giving birth. Generally in cinematic terms, men giving birth has been a comedic function. Finlay wisely gives the whole process respect and never descends to the kind of low-brow humor that a film like Junior, for example, descended to.

Freddie is, as he puts it, the only trans in the small seaside town of Deal in Kent. His desire to have a baby of his own is so overwhelming that adoption just isn’t an option; he wants to put his testosterone injections on hold, and carry a child to term while he still can. The process isn’t an easy one and Finlay follows Freddie through all of it. We go along with him to the doctor’s appointments, talking with sometimes it feels like every licensed member of the National Health Service (surely it must have felt that way to Freddie at least) as he takes this difficult path.

By his side every step of the way is his redoubtable mum Esme and his step-dad Gary. His father, who it is clear never really accepted him, is most definitely not on board. Even CJ, his romantic partner, eventually succumbs and their relationship dissolves. Freddie himself has plenty of self-doubt and does an awful lot of crying when he is alone in bed.

The movie’s coverage of the emotional aspects of the pregnancy and its ramifications are really where the film shines. Freddie often wonders if all of what he is sacrificing, which to a certain extent includes his own identity will be worth it in the end – it’s not really a spoiler to say that it is. In the end, the movie raises the point that life isn’t about doing what is expected of you; it’s about doing what makes you happy, no matter how difficult and demanding that may be. At the end of the day, we can only be true to ourselves and Freddie, although he questions it, ends up being exactly that.

The film, produced by the BBC, takes us through the birth and while we mostly hear it and see Freddie from the waist up, that and scenes of him injecting himself may be a bit much for those who are sensitive to such things. However, all that aside, Freddie is so likable and engaging, and his mother such a supportive and loving soul that you can’t help but root for them.

And when it comes to timing, I think it is notable to report that the movie made its American VOD debut four days after the Trump administration rolled back healthcare protection for trans patients during a pandemic, no less – further illustrating the struggle for acceptance that this community continues to wage. This film makes that struggle so much more human and should be part of the conversation of the cost of decisions like the one the Trump administration has made.

REASONS TO SEE: Freddie is an engaging and fearless subject. The emotional aspects of the story are even more fascinating than the practical.
REASONS TO AVOID: Some of the scenes are not for the squeamish.
FAMILY VALUES:  There is profanity, adult issues and brief nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film title refers to the seahorse, a species in which the male carries and spawns its own young.
BEYOND THE THEATER: AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Vimeo, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/18/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Trans List
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
The Pollinators

The Chamber (2016)


Rising waters are a bad thing on a mini-sub.

(2016) Thriller (Cinedigm) Johannes Kuhnke, Charlotte Salt, James McArdle, Elliot Levey, Christian Hillborg, James Artaius, David Horovitch. Directed by Ben Parker

 

The ocean remains an enigma for most of us. The last great unexplored space on Earth, it is as alien a landscape as Mars. Creatures that live down there are very different than us and the greater depths you go, the stranger the creatures are. The only way humans can explore down there are in great tin cans pumped full of oxygen – and there is so much that can go wrong.

Mats (Kuhnke) is the pilot of a mini-submersible that is currently leased out to a South Korean corporate entity. The Aurora is aging, nearly obsolete in many ways and held together with crazy glue, duct tape and the grace of God. When a group of American special ops types commandeer the sub, Mats is given no choice but to be their bus driver. Flinty and occasionally hysterical mission commander “Red” Edwards (Salt) tries to radiate as much testosterone as her team; brainy Denholm (Levey) and Parks (McArdle), a bear of a man with a hair-trigger temper.

They are after something on the ocean floor and in the waters of North Korea. What could possibly go wrong? Well, as it turns out – everything  Mats who is decidedly non-trusting of the decision making capabilities of this team (and with good reason as it turns out) balks at some of the orders he is given. Despite his assertion that “I know this ship” and assuming that when it comes to crew safety his authority supersedes that of Edwards, he discovers his assumptions are completely groundless when Edwards makes a terrible decision that puts everyone on the sub at grave risk.

Claustrophobic survival tales set on submarines are nothing particularly new and to be really honest The Chamber doesn’t add much to that particular subgenre. The set is pretty unconvincing – it looks like a set, to begin with, rather than an actual sub – although first-time director Parker does a fine job of getting across the claustrophobic surroundings and the rising paranoia and panic that goes along with being trapped in a crippled sub with uncertain circumstances and an unlikelihood of rescue. Most of the movie is just the four characters which you would think would leave some time for a little bit of character development but Parker who also wrote the screenplay chose not to go that route.

Instead we’re treated to a quartet of stereotypes and clichés that run through the usual motions in a film like this. Kuhnke shows some signs of being an excellent leading man. Some might remember him from the disaster flick Force Majeure, the excellent Swedish film from 2014 that was one of my favorite films that year. He shows excellent promise as a leading man; although there isn’t much chemistry between him and Salt.

The American ops are oozing testosterone, particularly Salt and McArdle, the latter of whom is a loose cannon that would never qualify for an elite black ops team. In fact given their reactions throughout the film it is clear that they are reacting to advance the plot rather than as characters actually would. Someone who works on a team for which things can go horribly wrong has to be cool, collected and think rationally on their feet; it’s clear that none of the military characters in the movie are capable of that which is a rookie writing mistake. One needs to research their characters before putting pen to paper.

That’s not to say that The Chamber doesn’t have entertainment value. While none of the situations are particularly innovative, there’s something about a rising water level and a diminishing amount of oxygen that puts the viewer right on the edge of their seat. Parker doesn’t do a bad job keeping the thrills coming and although he has a bit of a learning curve to get through there is definitely potential there. I’d call this a respectable effort and let you decide if this is the type of movie you want to spend some time with – it’s barely an hour and a half long – by all means do.

REASONS TO GO: Kuhnke is a fine leading man. The movie gives a very claustrophobic feel which is perfect for the tone.
REASONS TO STAY: There are a few too many clichés. There’s a little too much macho posturing for my tastes.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some violence and profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first movie score to be composed by James Dean Bradfield of the Manic Street Preachers.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/25/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 36% positive reviews. Metacritic: 40/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Abyss
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Concert for George