The Danish Girl is a remarkable account of the transgender experience, not only from the subject’s point of view but for those close to him/her as well. David Ebershoff’s book on which the film is based is a fictionalized account that used a transgender person’s diary for inspiration. In the hands of screenwriter Lucinda Coxon and director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) and their fellow filmmakers, the drama blossoms into a visually beautiful, lyrical production with emotional realism and depth.
A young Danish couple, Einar (Redmayne) and Gerda (Vikander) (immeasurably more attractive than their names!), are both painters, she of portraits and he of landscapes. He is better known, partly because this is in the 1920’s when women were “not supposed” to be painters. They are obviously in love and playful with one another, and in one of their games, they dress him up as a woman to pose for her portraits. It turns out that he revels in the feel of the fabric, moving like a woman, and calling himself Lili. He shrinks from art shows; but once, for fun, they dress him up as a woman to attend a benefit, and he is hit upon by Henrik (Whishaw) who tries to kiss him.
The problem is that he so enjoys his “woman-ness” he goes into an identity crisis, starts dressing like a woman frequently at home, and it begins to affect his relationship with Gerda. Eventually he realizes that he has always been female on the inside.
One of the strengths of the film is that Gerda is not shown to freak out in response to these changes, but is genuinely troubled because she loves Einar. And her love is the kind we always seek—one that flexes with change and sees into the soul of the other person. She sticks by him throughout his major decisions while still giving him room to explore, and she eventually accepts him as Lili. “We have to let Einer go”, Lili advises her at a sensitive moment, and she does.
Redmayne is as good at playing a woman as he was in playing Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, for which he won an Oscar earlier this year. Vikander is bursting on the Hollywood scene with premium and very diverse performances in Ex Machina, Testament of Youth, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and Burnt—all this year! Both Schoenaerts and Whishaw contribute to the quality of the film in their supporting roles.
Danny Cohen’s cinematography and Alexandre Desplat’s music play essential roles in making this a top-notch film. The beginning and ending scenes of the Danish fiords are redolent with nostalgia and longing, and Cohen’s capturing Lili’s sensual qualities are palpable. He has received awards from the American Academy, BAFTA, and the Golden Globes for his work in The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Painted Veil and The King’s Speech along with numerous nominations for other films. Desplat’s compositions always seems to capture the mood and essence of the films he scores, most notably, The Imitation Game, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Philomena, and he does it again in The Danish Girl.
A film to help you understand and marvel at the power of love.
Grade: A By Donna R. Copeland