‘The Danish Girl’ Movie Review

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 4.44.02 PMIf you’re looking for a nice transgender period drama to kick off your new year, look no further than British flick, The Danish Girl, starring Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander. The beauty captured in this film is nothing less than a painting, with the actors’ movements and dialogue like a ballet that sways you delicately back and forth as each scene unfolds. Based on the novel by the same title written by best-selling author David Ebershoff in 2000, this film tells the story (though it fabricates some elements beyond the actual events that occurred) of Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne), a landscape artist from Copenhagen in the 1920’s who undergoes a sex change operation after confirming his belief that he was born a man but is really a woman inside. With the unwavering love and support from his adoring wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander), Einar begins his transformation into Lili…or perhaps more accurately, his leaving behind the act of pretending to be a man.

 

The project went through 15 years of development before it was finally released on the big screen. Like many films it first went through a number of rewrites and several cast & crew before Tom Hooper latched on as director, and brought Eddie into the mix while they were filming Les Miserables. Nicole Kidman was originally signed on to play Lili, along with Charlize Theron as Gerda. Both pulled out over the course of the pending production, along with several other actresses including Rachel Weisz and Gwyneth Paltrow. Cold feet may have been a big issue here, as this subject matter was much less in the spotlight than it is today, with media blasting on Caitlin Jenner and the leniency on LGBT rights. 2015 was a great year for something like this to come out in theaters, with young and incredible talent attached.

 

At the start of the film Gerda asks her husband to try on a female client’s wardrobe so she can finish a painting. It is very clear that Einar is enjoying the game a little too much, and we see a definite shift in him, from seemingly disgruntled to fully embracing this new identity. The married couple then take it a bit further and dress him up as a woman for an artists ball. After an encounter with another gentleman, Henrik (Ben Whishaw), it becomes more and more clear that Einar is more content in “Lili’s” attire. Gerda now has to come to terms with losing her husband to this inevitable occurrence. This story is as much about the marriage as it is about the transgender experience – the pairing of the two leads had to be perfect. Since this was Hooper’s “passion project”, after coming off two huge blockbusters in The King’s Speech and Les Miserables, he was as adamant about casting as any other part of the production.

 

During the transformation from Einar to Lili, Gerda finds inspiration in this exploding human being and begins to make portraits of Lili, which are erotic and wild, not like Gerda’s past portraits which were well executed but a bit lifeless. This role required an actress who could be demanding and stubborn, but was also soft and kind…and with a fierce head on her shoulders.

 

After crying during her audition, Hooper hired Alicia Vikander to play the role of Gerda.  However due to scheduling conflicts with another movie she wasn’t available during the start of filming, so the director pushed the date to accommodate her commitments. Alicia is marvelous as Gerda, showing emotional strength while still embodying a sexual playfulness and grace throughout the film. Alicia comes from a dancing background, so her movements and gestures are lovely and poised, yet she has an unpredictable way about her that makes you wonder if she could shatter at any moment.

 

After struggling to make sense of what is happening to him while seeing many different doctors, Einar makes the decision that he will undergo a high risk sex change operation, turning him into a woman once and for all. Gerda leans on Hans (Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts), an old friend of Einar’s, for support during this time after the couple has moved to Paris for Gerda to show her Lili portraits in a grand exhibit. It is now that we see Eddie unleashing the woman inside him and bringing her to life.  He carefully studies women and how they move, mimicking them in this delicate and endearing way. He plays Lili like she’s a shy little schoolgirl coming into her own, and the reflection is genuine and remarkable. His sheepish smiles and longing gazes whenever he embraces a new challenge exemplifies his abilities as an actor: you can see everything he is feeling so clearly, even if it’s only for a moment. Eddie says of his feelings for the script “It’s a wonderful love story. It retrained my notion of love, that love is not about gender or bodies. It’s about souls. The minute I read it, I wanted to do it.”

 

While only covering a selection of the events that happened in the real life story, it may be perceived as a shallow treatment as so much of the film has to do with costumes and attire; however this is crucial to the portrayal of Lili and and is done in such a beautiful way it’s almost like watching a british stage performance. The wardrobe in itself is another character in the film, alongside the gorgeous European landscapes and historical 1920’s landmarks. It will leave you believing in unconditional love and a tenderness that expands beyond expectations of what love should or should not be. Regardless of how well it coincides with the story it is based on, this one mirrors something raw and honest and is a delight to watch.

 

 

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Jess

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