The Danish Girl(2016)
- RatedR21 /GenreBiography, Drama
In ‘The Theory of Everything’, Eddie Redmayne was presented with an incredible opportunity to portray one of our greatest minds; a role so demanding – physically and emotionally.
The actor’s performance and his commitment to the role were nothing short of revelatory; it was so good that he took home several trophies at the Golden Globes and the Oscars.
It seems that Redmayne might just replicate the feat with ‘The Danish Girl’. Reuniting with ‘Les Miserables’ director Tom Hooper, Redmayne finds himself in a tour-de-force pairing with actress-of-the-moment Alicia Vikander.
Equally challenging physically and emotionally as ‘Theory of Everything’, the movie is based on the true story of artist Einar Wegener / Lili Elbe, a Danish transgender woman and one of the first people recognized for having sex reassignment surgery in the early 1930s.
Adapted from a novel inspired by the life of the real Lili, this lusciously filmed period piece begins in 1920s Copenhagen, six years after Einar’s (Redmayne) marriage to Gerda (Vikander). Einar’s a successful landscape painter while Gerda is struggling to gain a foothold in the art scene with her portraits.
When their ballerina friend Ulla (Amber Heard) is a no-show for a portrait sitting, Gerda persuades her husband to stand in. Einar obligingly puts on stockings and ballerina shoes while holding Ulla’s dress against his body – the feeling of silk, lace and tulle stirred something inside Einar. Gerda also finds inspiration in her new muse, and the resulting work was finally accepted by a gallery.
Initially, Gerda thought nothing of her husband’s penchant for looking feminine, even helping him apply makeup and giving his alter-ego a name, Lili, his cousin from the country.
Everything changes when Gerda catches him kissing a man (Ben Whishaw) at a party; and they both realize that Lili is not a game anymore. Soon, Gerda finds him wearing her nightgown underneath his suit, and Einar slowly fades into Lili more and more. “It doesn’t matter what I wear,” he tells her. “When I dream, they’re Lili’s dreams.”
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When Lili realises that she and Einar cannot co-exist, she makes the difficult decision to go to Dresden to undergo a risky gender reassignment surgery with a pioneering surgeon.
Giving us another spectacle is the amazing Eddie Redmayne. It is remarkable how the 33-year-old actor flits between the boyish charm of Einar to the graceful femininity of Lili with the greatest of ease.
Here, Redmayne gives an acting masterclass, fully inhabiting his character. We see his Einar slowly blossom into his true self, copying the nuances of a lady’s hand movements at the fish market, studying a woman’s sensuality at a Paris peepshow or drinking in the details of how his wife puts on her stockings and learning to walk in her shoes.
By the end, all we see is Lili; and it is difficult not to be moved by Lili’s transformation just by the strength of Redmayne’s performance.
As much as ‘The Danish Girl’ is the story about Einar and his challenging transition into Lili, it is also about a woman’s courage to stand by her husband.
After a stand-out turn in ‘Ex Machina’, the Swedish actress gives her all as Gerda, a wife conflicted by the unconditional love of her husband, what he has become and her desire to free Lili at the cost of her husband. Displaying a range of emotions from love, despair, and acceptance, Vikander’s performance is what anchors ‘The Danish Girl’.
Director Hooper takes his time to establish that Einar and Gerda are soul-mates, and very much in love with each other. From there it is evidently clear that Vikander is so emotionally connected to her character that it is easy to be sucked in and sympathise with her dilemma.
While the movie is buoyed by the great performances of its two leads, the story would have been a lot fuller if that era’s milieu of intolerance for anything not of the norm was better set up.
That would have put Lili’s challenging transition in better context than just seeing awkward vignettes of confrontations with people who find out about her on the street.
What’s extraordinary about ‘The Danish Girl’ is how Hooper treats the emotional challenges of both characters individually and when they’re together.
While there are clear details that might have been glossed over, the nuances of the story – namely love and acceptance – is beautifully translated to the screen.
‘The Danish Girl’ opens 7 January 2016