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THE DANISH GIRL (review)

danish_girlTHE DANISH GIRL

Written by Lucinda Coxon / Directed by Tom Hooper / Starring Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander and Matthias Schoenaerts

Lili Elbe / Einar Wegener: It doesn’t matter what I wear. It’s what I dream.

This is definitely the right time to tell this story. As mainstreamed as the transgender community has become, which is really only marginal still, it is still a very different concept for many people to comprehend and there is still so much ignorance and hatred to overcome. That said, imagine for a moment what it must have been like to be one of the very first transgender people to undergo gender reassignment surgery. To do so, you will have to go back to the 1920’s to behold the story of landscape painter Einar Wegener who became portrait model Lili Elbe, which is exactly what Tom Hooper does with his latest film, THE DANISH GIRL.

Without having the language to frame the workings of his mind, Einar (played by Academy Award winner for THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING, Eddie Redmayne) lived a very confused and often tortured existence. If we are to believe the film, Einar had mastered the art of repressing his feelings of being trapped in the wrong body very well. He was married to a fellow painter, Gerda (Alicia Vikander, EX-MACHINA) and was happy at that. Then one day, while helping his wife with a portrait, he poses in stockings and heels and is no longer able to keep his desires at bay.

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While Lucinda Coxon’s screenplay does very little to enlighten us on how Einar came to feel this way, other than to point out that there had been an incident as a child that scarred him, it does show us the mental unraveling that took place once Einar let Lili out to play. Thanks to another truly nuanced and internal performance by Redmayne, we are able to better understand the push and pull Einar experiences as he comes to terms with the fact that Lili is who he truly is. That journey is only further made real by the relationship he has with his wife, first as a husband and then as a girlfriend. Vikander is breathtaking to watch. Hers is sometimes the harder part to play as she doesn’t have the grandness of gender performance that Redmayne does. Her struggle is about watching her marriage die in order to allow her husband to live. Together the pair are electric and mesmerizing to watch.

Performances aside though, THE DANISH GIRL does at times feel a little light on its feet. Hooper’s (LES MISERABLES, THE KING’S SPEECH) direction, while as stunning and as sweeping as ever, is a tad too airy for the heavy subject at hand. Still, the dialogue is sharp and emotions run high and very real, making the film an enjoyable experience even if it sometimes feels like it is only scratching the surface. Nearly 100 years later, it would appear we still have much to learn on the subject before we can really capture all of the levels of complexity involved.

4 sheep

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