The Danish Girl’s overriding success is its casting, epitomised by Eddie Redmayne’s and Alicia Vikander’s Oscar nominations for leading actor and supporting actress. Redmayne and Vikander handle the compelling plot of a husband’s awakening identification as a woman, and the subsequent journey of her partaking in one of the first sex reassignment surgeries. Loosely based on the lives of Danish painters, Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener, it is certainly a film with relationships at its core. The audience become aligned with Gerda, Lili’s [formerly named Einar] wife, in her sympathy, acceptance and support of her husband’s gender identification.
After the controversial media explosion that surrounded Caitlyn Jenner’s gender transition in 2015, The Danish Girl’s release has relevantly fallen into the growing debate and focus on transgender issues [although being a decade in production before its release]. The film offers an alternative narrative to the heavily publicised, glamourized account of the American Olympic gold medallist. Taking place in the middle of the 1920s, in Copenhagen, the term ‘transgender’ had not entered populous use; the characters portray a raw approach to the concept. We, as the audience, are privileged with modern enlightenment on what Lili is experiencing, creating an atmosphere of compassion.
The theme of art and perception carries throughout the film; Gerda’s paintings of Lili expresses her admiring gaze on the canvas, just as the screen presents our admiring gaze of Lili. We are accustomed to Redmayne’s stunning physicality in his films, from his damaged leg as Eddie Kreezer in Hick to his portrayal of motor neurone disease in The Theory of Everything. Much like The Danish Girl, Redmayne’s performance as Lili is delicate, sensitive and beautiful. There is a subtle gentleness is his characterisation of femininity. Even before we are introduced to Lili, the slight movement of Einar’s fingers are indirect signs of her existence. There is true talent displayed in Redmayne’s performance of Lili, who in herself has to perform as Einar to fit into social norms.
The heart of this biographical drama, however, is the character of Gerda. While on the surface Lili is the Danish girl struggling to be recognised, in the narrative’s centre Gerda is the Danish girl holding both herself and Lili above water. The Danish Girl presents feminine strength on many levels. Gerda recalls her first kiss with Einar feeling as if she was kissing herself. There is a superb duality in this pair, and it proves hard to determine which Danish girl truly embodies the title.
Overall Rating: Five Stars
Favourite Scene [WARNING, POTENTIAL SPOILERS]: A spectacular scene to look out for is what I will coin ‘the conception of Lili’. During an evening, the couple [Einar and Gerda] share a moment of intimacy. At the point of undressing, Gerda discovers her husband wearing one of her nightgowns, which he previously admired on her. There is a clear sense of shock on Gerda’s face but she doesn’t speak, after some hesitation she proceeds to pull him closer and they continue. Before going to sleep Gerda expresses that she is sure that they created a child. This scene is beautifully shot and handled by the actors. It encompasses everything gripping about the film: Gerda’s acceptance, the couple’s bond and the unearthing of Lili. Gerda came to the conclusion that they had created a baby in this scene; I suggest that Lili was the child conceived.