A Deal With the Universe is a documentary made by a transgender filmmaker, focused on a transgender man's story. For it to be presented in a way that isn’t sensationalist, is a most certainly a great leap forward for cinema.
What makes this film unique is that the director and the subject matter is one and the same – that is trans man Jason Barker, who makes his directorial debut offering us using a collection of home videos which journal his and his partner Tracey attempts to have a baby.
The need for a gap between director and subject for objectivity’s sake is quickly eschewed as it becomes clear that Jason and Tracey's are incredibly open on camera about the journey to parenthood.
The film follows Jason and Tracey in 2004 as they try to start a family, after unsuccessful attempts and trips to the doctor it soon becomes clear that Tracey can’t have children, which is when Jason realises that his ovaries still function and could be viable. From there the pair decide to do the unconventional and have Jason, who is registered as male, become pregnant. This is not without obstacles. The couple thoughtfully look at the situation of bringing up a child and the implications not just for themselves but the trans-community as a whole.
The couple are tested when Tracey is diagnosed with stage 1 Breast cancer, the documentary is incredibly intimate with this subject matter and this style continues throughout. Benefitting from the couples sense of humour and companionship, you are welcomed in to their lives like a friend as they discuss pregnancy, gender transitioning and cancer. Jason’s stand-up shows are interspersed through the film, providing comedic relief about topical issues.
Once Jason makes the difficult decision to become a pregnant man, he goes through the process of coming off hormones and starting IVF. Portraying a side of fertility that’s not openly spoken about, as we watch the lengthy, invasive and expensive process of treatment in the slim chance of making life.
The title A Deal with Universe reflects the emotional bargaining Jason does throughout the film as he asks questions about God, morality and society and himself as an individual. There are several moments through the film which seem to lean in to the superstitious – birds appear throughout the film, their symbolic presence characterised by birth and death. The documentary doesn’t seek to critique these outside forces but to invite them in to Jason’s life and understand his motivations while also being honest with himself and that is the films greatest strength. Openness and courage to do what feels right.
Jason grapples with whether if what he’s doing is selfish; he is supported by friends who remind him that having a child who will be loved is worth pursuing. Whilst Tracey contemplates that as a couple they’ve never had it easy so why would this be any different and that is both reassuring and heart-breaking. This film will make you laugh and cry and laugh again, but most importantly you’ll walk away feeling like you’ve made a friend in someone you may never meet.
A Deal With The Universe comes out through Peccadillo Pictures and opens in cinemas across the UK on 12th April, 2019.
Words by Sunny Ramgolam @SunnyRamgolam.
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