Someday Productions LLC and Pillow Talking blog are pleased to present the following review of The Danish Girl.
There were two reasons I could not wait to see The Danish Girl. In no particular order, the first being that I am an ardent Eddie Redmayne devotee (read: fanatic). I fell in silver-screen love with his talents in Les Misérables (Wayne and I were so fortunate to have been able to see the first screening of it at NYC’s Lincoln Center with him in attendance); and even more was I blown away after The Theory of Everything, thrilled that he’d later clean up at the 2015 Oscars – I think I jumped up from the couch and screamed with joy when he won. The second reason is because I believe that film itself can offer a wonderful opportunity, when done well, to educate people about social issues. The fact that The Danish Girl, based on the novel by David Ebershoff, is inspired by a transgender individual who received one of the first-known, male-to-female sexual reassignment surgeries, one only can hope that this story helps to bring awareness, understanding, tolerance, and acceptance.
To say that Redmayne did not disappoint would be a massive understatement. This man is amazingly capable of complete transformation; full immersion into any character he elects to play. In The Danish Girl as talented landscape artist Einar Wegener, he is the loving husband of portrait artist Gerda Wegener, played by the striking and amazingly talented Alicia Vikander. After helping Gerda complete a portrait by donning her tardy subject’s dress and shoes, he becomes set on his life’s true trajectory – that of becoming Lili Elbe. Once given “permission” to do this by his equally loving and doting wife, he is desperate for this masquerade never to cease – because to him, Einar is the deception.
One nearly can feel Einar’s torturous emotional rollercoaster through Redmayne’s riveting portrayal; Einar is so completely incapable of holding back his true female identity; this is evident in well more than just wearing women’s clothing. Although Gerda allows it initially, it becomes a source of stress between them. You feel for both characters, because despite their deep love and affection for one another, as Lili dominates, Einar withers, as does their marriage. Being Einar becomes impossible – being Lili is glorious because it is authentic.
Director Tom Hooper is a force with which to be reckoned – and together with Redmayne they are a powerhouse duo. There was an undeniable intimacy to the film – and Redmayne’s fearlessness and vulnerability as an actor is unparalleled. Cinematographer Danny Cohen brings true art to the screen – the movie, filmed in Denmark, Belgium, England, Germany, and Norway was breathtaking. Every scene a priceless canvas of beautiful landscapes which included such lush locales as the Nyhavn waterfront and Kunsthal Charlottenborg.
Supporting actors/characters, including Amber Heard as Ulla, Ben Whishaw as Henrik, Matthias Schoenaerts as Hans Axgil, and Sebastian Koch as Dr. Warnekros were superb and rounded out the featured cast.
As a professor of psychology, I often use cinema to teach – and whether totally based upon factual information or realistic portrayals of fictional stories, The Danish Girl likely will be in my arsenal, should I elect to cover this sensitive, often controversial, and poorly understood topic. Bravo to all involved who brought this beauty to the screen and I hope that with open minds, many will see it and come closer to that place of understanding and acceptance of all people.
I need to make a material disclosure regarding this film and my viewing habits. If I were not a reviewer for this blog, I would not have seen The Danish Girl. Despite being a culture vulture, it would not even be my last choice to watch in a snowstorm. But it’s an award-nominated film and my wife was dying to watch it.
And the bottom line? I thought it was a well-made, well-acted film.
The Danish Girl is based on a 2000 fictional novel by David Ebershoff that, in turn, was “loosely” inspired by Danish painters Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener. The character Lili (born Einar Wegener) was one of the first recipients to receive sex reassignment surgery (called in my day a “sex-change operation”) from man to woman. Obviously, it was at a time (in the early 1900’s) when public opinion and medical procedures were quite different from what they are today. The film explores the gradual gender transformation both from a physical and emotional standpoint of Einar to Lili. In so doing, the film is captivating.
The film’s success, in large part, is due to Academy Award-winner Eddie Redmayne’s sensitive and poignant portrayal of Einar/Lili. Redmayne has proven that he belongs among the ranks of actors like Brando, De Niro, Pacino, Hoffman (among others) who can totally transform themselves into other personas for the cinema. I disagree with some of the early criticism of the film on the festival circuit because they cast a “cisgender” male for the part. (I confess I had to look this up – cisgender – one who identifies with the gender in which they have been assigned at birth.)
Watching the courageous acting chops of Redmayne reminded me of another courageous actor — Robert Reed from the Brady Bunch who played a transgender doctor in 1975 on the TV show Medical Center in a two-part episode titled “The Fourth Sex.” Needless to say, it was WAY ahead of its time.
Alicia Vikander is perfect as Gerda Wegener, Einar’s wife and support system. It’s hard for me to visualize Charlize Theron or Gwyneth Paltrow as Gerda (who were both rumored to play the role). Director Tom Hooper proves that he can direct anything from biopics like this and John Adams to musical dramas like Les Miserables.
If I had any criticisms it would be a general one – not necessarily directed against this film but one against “faction” based pieces in general: to wit, the crossing of the line between reality and fiction where it becomes so muddy and blurred that revisionist history occurs. It would be akin to seeing a film about Custer where he survives Little Big Horn and goes on to become President.
Would I watch it again? Umm, probably not. My plebian tastes for encores are firmly entrenched in action adventures and horror fare. But at least my culture vulturism is enough to allow me to admit that I am pleased to have seen such a finely made film.