“THE DANISH GIRL”— A Film with Sensitivity

the danish girl

“The Danish Girl”

A Film with Sensitivity

Amos Lassen

Based on the story of Lilly Elb (Eddie Redmayne) who was born Einar Wegener, male, and was the first identifiable person to undergo gender reassignment. “The Danish Girl” begins as a portrait of a young husband and wife trying to eke out a living as painters. The film opens with beautiful landscape shots that we learn are the places from Einar’s youth. Einar later becomes Lilly.

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This is director Tom Hooper’s thoroughly English bio-drama of groundbreaking transgender figure Lilly Elbe and the artist wife who stood by her husband Einar throughout his long and difficult transition to live as a woman. The subject is approached with correctness and careful sensitivity of the film’s approach seem somehow a limitation in an age when many independent and cable TV projects dealing with thematically related subject matter have led us to expect something edgier. The movie remains safe but we cannot dare to question its integrity, or the balance of vulnerability and strength that Eddie Redmayne brings to the lead role. He is absolutely amazing.

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The LGBTQ community has complained about the lack of authenticity or courage in having a cisgender actor portray transgender experience, but there is no shock nor is their anything offensive in the film. The film is adapted by Lucinda Coxon from American novelist David Ebershoff’s partly fictionalized account of Elbe’s life that was published in 2000. The film begins in Copenhagen in 1926, six years after Wegener’s marriage to Gerda (Alicia Vikander). He’s an in-demand landscape painter, while she tries to make inroads into the art world with her undistinguished portraits.

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When Gerda, right after another rejection from the world of art, asks Einar to substitute for a model that did not arrive. He agrees and outs on stockings and jeweled shoes. He gains pleasure from the sensation of silk and satin against his skin. Gerda now finds new inspiration, and the resulting sketches and paintings capture the attention of an indifferent art dealer who had been inattentive earlier. What we see here is that Gerda and Einar are happily married. We also get a bit of foreshadowing. We later see Einar distractedly running his fingers over fur and tulle in the wardrobe racks at the ballet. If Gerda’s initial encouragement of Einar’s cross-dressing is accurately depicted as a kind of bohemian game, it’s more than a half-hour before even a glimmer of conflict sneaks into the relationship of the two. Actually it all really begins when Einar lets his true self emerge—while at a party, he is kissed by Henrik (Ben Whishaw), a persistent suitor. Gerda saw the kiss and is a bit upset. Up until then nothing really bothered her very much.

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Redmayne really excels by the middle of the picture when as Einar, he attempts to honor Gerda’s wishes and remove the escalating confusion from their marriage but this does not work. When Einar becomes Lilly so does Redmayne. The married couple go to Paris for a while and when they return to Copenhagen, we sense the emotional desire for Lilly to go to work in a chic department store at a perfume counter and when we see her there, she id glowing now that she sees herself as a woman among women. Later, we see Einar who still alternates the way he appears but he studies carefully female body language.

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Einar eventually realizes that he cannot continue living as a man and makes up his mind to go to Dresden to undergo surgery with a German doctor (Sebastian Koch) who is one of the pioneers in the filed. Einar, now Lilly, maintains his relationship with and marriage to Gerda and, in effect, becomes her muse. Now the marriage is quite unconventional and Vikander as Gerda captures this beautifully. She fights to keep a balance between the man she married and the woman he has become.

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The film’s focus is on the shifting dualities between Einar and Lilly and what this means is that Vikander’s character has less dimension. We are living now at a time when transgender representation has replaced gay rights as the next equality frontier. I wish that this film had been able to do that but in reality it seems that it was made as a vehicle for Eddie Redmayne to show his versatility. I do not mean to say that this is not a good movie—it is a fine movie but it could have been so much better.