True love, confusion and transgender issues in the 1920’s, what more could you want from a film?
After seeing the trailer for The Danish Girl I knew I had to see it.
Eddie Redmayne pulls off the ultimate identity overhaul as ‘the danish girl’ the gender reassigned Lili Elbe/ Einar Wegener, one of the first to undergo a sex-change via surgery.
Set almost a century ago somewhere between 1926 and 1931 in Denmark The Danish Girl is the story of Einar Wegener, a happily married succesful landscape painter, discovering who he really is and his journey towards making his dreams a reality. The very talented Alicia Vikander plays the role of Einars wife Gerda, a not so successful portrait artist, who struggles hugely with her husbands change but at the same time is one of the only people to believe he isn’t insane.
It all begins when Gerda asks her husband to fill in for her female model who can’t make it to pose for a painting she is working on. Einar dons the silk stockings, silver pumps and hold the gown against his body in the feminine pose expected of him.
When the model eventually shows up, she responds to the image of Einar posing by giving him a name, Lili, soon to become his alternate persona.
Gerda later requests her husband attend an artists ball with her, something he detests, but as an compromise Gerda suggests he attend as Lili.
Obviously Lili is very hesitant to make an appearance at first, but Einar agrees.
There are then many scenes after showing the excitement between between both Gerda and Einar when searching for the perfect wig and gown for Lili, mostly in Gerda. Is the creation of this new person a distraction replacement for the child the couple have struggled to conceive?
The next scene could arguably be the best scene in the film, a Cinderella reveal moment a coming out scene.
Lili is revealed, she can feel all the eyes in the room on her, and realises that this is how beautiful women feel all the time and enjoys it. If you take nothing but this lone gender swapping lesson in body identification then I believe this is enough to come from such an important film.
A young man named Hendrick takes an interest in Lili, which she enjoys, and he kisses her but Gerda is watching. The couple return home and do not discuss the incident and when Gerda wakes the next morning Lili is gone and you can see Einar is genuinely struggling to cope.
It then occurs to Einar that he should see a doctor about his gender confusion, but he is very much mistaken in thinking they can offer him any help in becoming the woman he thinks he is.
The medical community’s response to the situation, up until very recently, was to diagnose the patients with schizophrenia or as clinically insane and treatment was to try and shock or drug the sickness out of them.
When he finally finds a doctor who understands his situation and wants to help him by suggesting a very new gender reassignment surgery. Here Gerda says her most important line in the film,
“I believe I am a woman.” Einar tells the surgeon, “…and I believe it too,” Gerda adds.
Throughout the film Gerda remains the positive half of what begins as and surprisingly remains as a loving couple. Alicia Vikander gives an amazing performance as the woman who’s husband no longer wants to live as a man.
After deciding to go through with the risky surgery, a childhood friend of Einars, Hans Axgil, shows up and creates a love triangle between the couple.
Einar tells Hans he has contemplated suicide but he couldn’t bring himself to kill Lili too. Many Transgender people have these exact feelings so this is a well overdue portrayal of real life situations.
The struggle is a real one at the time with prevailing homophobia (shown with a Parisian gay bashing) and the sexual politics in the 20’s. It was still an early time for women’s rights and someone trying to follow their female intuition at a time which meant ceding the social privileges that came with being a man.
After Lili’s surgery she finally has the body she has longed for. However, all isn’t well, as she had rushed into the second surgery without proper healing time, the recovery is not going well and she becomes very sick and dies. The film ends with Hans and Gerda in Denmark watching Lili’s scarf blow over the sea.
The film is beautiful in the way it tells such a tragic story of a woman trapped in someone else’s body.
However, it is nothing if not sensitive to how old fashioned viewers (voters) might respond to the issues at hand. All of the pricklier details have been removed and it keeps in with the LGBT movie tradition of tragically killing the “monster” in the end.