Note: the following review is for The Danish Girl premiering on FRIDAY, AUGUST 26 at 9:00pm.
A fictionalized account about the true story of Lili Elbe, one of the first known recipients of sex reassignment surgery, this film follows the struggles of a person becoming who they knew they were meant to be. Starring Eddie Redmayne as Einar Wegener and Alicia Vikander as his wife Gerda Gottlieb, the couple work together to help him through the trials of transitioning and becoming Lili.
I want to apologize in advance if I make mistakes with pronouns or verbiage. I want to do justice to the film without offending anyone. Because I think this is an important movie and an important conversation, but I do not always say the right thing. That disclaimer aside, I am ready to discuss the amazing art piece that is The Danish Girl.
Casting for this film received some backlash in picking Eddie Redmayne, someone who is a cis-gendered male (sex identity that matches their assigned sex) as a transgendered individual. Being an oppressed population, transgendered people are not readily represented by transgender individuals. Mainly because transgender people are often not represented at all. I do believe though, that if a cis-gendered male had to be cast, Redmayne was a fantastic choice. He emotionally explores the changing identity to great depths and expresses that in his eyes, his mannerisms, and facial expressions. You can see the pain and confusion so elegantly on his face. He may not be transgendered, but I think he does emotional justice to the process of understanding who you are, who you want to be, and how to get there.
The other powerful casting choice is Vikander as Einar/Lili’s wife, Gerda. I feel that Vikander will be making her strides now in becoming a frequently cast leading lady. She stunningly embraces the same emotional confusion, but in loving a person who does not understand themselves and knowing you would sacrifice anything for the person you love, no matter what their gender is. Gerda loves Einar. She has always loved him. But since Einar is no longer Einar, Gerda has to process how to love Lili for who she is and reconcile the differences in their new relationship. And in that endeavor, Vikander is an emotional powerhouse.
The cinematography is utterly stunning. Between the city life in Denmark and Paris to the country from Einar’s childhood, the scenery is breathtaking. In particular, the opening sequences struck me in a philosophical way. The screen glimpses beautiful landscapes, and changes these at a decent speed. I found this to be a good representation of the changing landscape in transgender awareness and acceptance. The changes are subtle, because such with other issues of this magnitude and importance, nothing changes overnight. It is slow and painful, but it does change eventually. For Einar to decide being Lili openly meant a lot of turning heads and shock factor. Taking place in the late 1920s, every doctor Einar visited insisted he was crazy or homosexual. I cannot comprehend the fear in trying to express who you are and having people think you’re crazy. How do you prove what you feel when there is no psychological or medical understanding yet? Eventually, a doctor does believe and becomes instrumental in helping Lili be her true self. And this fear is still alive and well almost 100 years later. People openly transgender have been targeted in hate crimes, particularly the shooting at the Pulse club in Florida earlier this year. The gay club was featuring two transgendered performers that night. Unfortunately, not much as changed in 100 years. Fear and hate is still rampant.
With the amazing cinematography and fantastic actors, I heartily recommend this film. But I recommend it more because of education. Allow yourself for two hours, particularly if you are cisgender, to imagine what it would feel to be born in the wrong body. Imagine the pain, the fear, the confusion, and struggle for acceptance in wanting your loved ones to love you for who you really are. It is heart wrenching to try and understand what that would feel like, and to know that to this day people all over the world are struggling for this acceptance. It is an eye opening and powerful way to spend two hours.