Kyle J. Steenblik

The Danish Girl is an Amazingly Beautiful Film, but Too Revisionary

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The-Danish-Girl-1The Danish Girl
Directed by: Tom Hooper
Screenplay by: Lucinda Coxon
Based on The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Ben Whishaw, Sebastian Koch, Amber Heard, Matthias Schoenaerts
Running time 120 minutes
Rated R for some sexuality and full nudity

4 stars out of 5Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne) is a well-known and successful abstract landscape painter in 1920’s Copenhagen, married to, and passionately in love with, contemporary portrait artist Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander).  The couple seems to have an ideal life, except for their difficulties conceiving a child.  One day Gerda asked Einar to sit in for their friend, a ballerina named Oola (Amber Heard) whom Gerda was painting but had failed to show up.   After Einar put on the stockings, shoes, and the dress, he was surprised how comfortable he felt in that clothing.  When Oola surprised them, she lovingly renamed Einar to Lili, after this Einar began to borrow Gerda’s underclothes, of which she was tolerant.  Sometime later, when they were invited to a party with their contemporaries Einar expressed a sincere desire to stay behind, until Gerda suggested attending as Lili.  This was intended to be a fun masquerade, but during the night, something changed for Einar, and he started to become Lili.  Now starting to recall long forgotten memories of Einar wishing or pretending to be a woman, Einar begins to struggle to understand him, or herself.  After a disastrous consultation and subsequent treatment from a doctor traumatized Einar, Lili became his preferred and dominant identity.  During this time Gerda began to paint portraits of Lili, which became increasingly popular, eventually they relocated from Copenhagen to Paris.  As time went on the divide between Einar and Lili grew more pronounced, she settled on the concussion that Lili was her true self-identity, and she, with the support of Gerda, sought revolutionarily experimental gender re-assignment surgery.

The very first thing I want to say about this film is that it is exquisitely made, and performed, the second thing I need to say is that the events have been significantly fictionalized.  The characters existed, and the events depicted happened, but the characters and their interactions are not intended to be historically accurate.  That fact does not significantly diminish the effectiveness of the story presented, nor does it impact the quality of the film, so I have no qualms about leading my review of this film with that note.  What it did do was to cast a rose tinted light on these events, while Einar/Lili’s internal struggle is clear and staggeringly heartbreaking, the overall acceptance and support she receives felt overly exaggerated.  While 1920’s Copenhagen and Paris were undoubtedly more progressive in their mindset about sexuality, transgenderism was a different beast all together.  That said, given the peers they would have associated with it is very likely that they were accepting of this change, but I highly doubt it was so universal, and instantaneous.  In other words, was 1920’s Copenhagen and Paris more civilized than we are nearly 100 years later?  It is possible, this was pre-Fascism, pre-Nazism, but still it would pain me to think it would have taken civilization a century to regain that much humanity.  The end result of this minor diatribe is the unintentional belittlement of the actual subject matter, which is staggeringly tragic, and hobbles an otherwise brilliantly beautiful film with remarkable performances from Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander.  I will still, with my whole heart, recommend this film, but with the caveat that it is fictionalized, even idealized history.


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