I want to begin by saying that The Danish Girl is not for everyone. While the story of a man looking to transition to a women is well told, masterfully acted and does a solid job in encapsulating the fears and emotions of the characters – it can make you deeply uncomfortable in the manner it goes about telling the story and it’s something you will need to approach with an open mind. We live in an era where transgender acceptance is increasing, but a lot of people still find it uncomfortable and this movie deals with the topic very openly.
However, I don’t want to scare people off from watching this movie, as it is still a very good movie that certainly offers a very strong portrait of the emotional turmoil that goes through when a person undertakes these transitions and and how they come to terms with what they feel.
The Danish Girl follows the ‘true life’ story of Einar Wegener (played by Eddie Redmayne), a popular landscape artist who is coming to terms with a suppressed female personality (named Lili Elbe) and his desire to explore his femininity. I put true-life in commas there, as the movie is actually based off a fictionalized account of the story from a book written by David Ebershoff. The characters in the movie did exist in real-life, but there are obvious liberties taken with the story to make it more palatable to the cinema goer.
One of these changes is the relationship Einar has with his wife Gerda Wegener (brilliantly played by Alicia Vikander) and how she comes to term with first being attracted to this part of Einar, before being repulsed by it, to eventually accepting it. Gerda was Einar’s wife in real life, but the film has a much more endearing quality to their relationship than what actually happened. However, these historical changes take nothing away from what the movie is trying to do – which is show the turmoil and plight of a person dealing with gender misalignment.
The exploration into Einar’s journey begins when he has to model as a female to help his wife, a fellow artist, finish a portrait (The Danish Girl refers to the portraits she paints of Lili). This starts with her even convincing him to dress up as a woman to feel more comfortable in large social circles which Gerda wants to go to as she sees it as a way to promote herself as an artist. All this leaves to unlocking a part of Einar that he had locked up for a long time following a childhood incident and he begins to openly explore these aspects of his personality.
It starts off being something that he can change to for fun, but slowly it becomes something he realizes is a deeper part of who he is and instead of running away from it, realizes that she has been a part of who him all along. This eventually leaves him down the path of desiring gender reassignment surgery to finally feel complete with who she is as a person. (Yes, using the right pronoun in this paragraph has been a challenge.)
Much has been made of Eddie Redmayne’s performance in this movie with many critics tipping him as the likeliest bet to beat Leonardo di Caprio in this year’s Oscar race, if indeed anyone does beat him. And Eddie does a solid job in the role by starting off in the movie as a very awkward individual who grows in confidence as they became more aware of themselves.
I did find that while he nails a lot of the emotional awkwardness of the movie, he did not convince completely as a women, merely relying on soft spoken lines and a wry smile to come across as a female. Even his walk and mannerisms, while coming close, were not consistent throughout the movie. So, yes his performance is strong, but I think Leo should be safe for the win this year.
However, Alicia Vikander for me truly steals the show in this movie. Her portrayal as the supporting wife is incredibly and she actually gets the meatier portion of the script, dealing with more emotional toil and handling it convincingly and exceptionally. She melds through the emotions of intrigue, betrayal, love, frustration and acceptance with ease and it’s her character that grows the most through the movie.
And director Tom Hooper certainly expected a lot from his leads as he relies a lot on still camera work and close-ups of his characters to tell the story through their emotions rather than just relying on dialogue. There is a lot that is never said that is told through the body language and this is done well. Hooper doesn’t come across too flashy in his direction and allows the film to focus on his characters.
There are some deviations from subtlety with his use of nudity in the film though. One scene with Eddie Redmayne is particularly powerful, but the rest doesn’t add much to the film and seems a little gratuitous.
The film also stars a supporting cast of Matthias Schoenaerts, Ben Whishaw, Amber Heard, Sebastian Koch, Emerald Fennell and a cute Jack Russel who adds nothing to the story, but seems to draw your attention whenever it is on screen. I will also say that while the film is set in Denmark, there are no Danish accents in the movie. I don’t think its required, it might bug purists, but I think it makes the film more accessible.
The story is also backed up well by a haunting score from Alexandr Desplat that meets the troughs and crescendos of the characters with great intent. You barely notice it at times, but when there are moments of drama, it comes through brilliantly. Cinematography and art direction is all suitably done, with everything feeling like it exists in the early 1930’s, which is when the story takes place.
The pacing of the movie is well thought out, though uneven at times. The movie can cover large periods in a short time, yet still allows for characters to develop. With the still camera work, the film does seem slow at times and while it is used to convey emotion, it can be tedious. Overall though, the movie plays out well and I think Hooper has done an exceptional job in making a movie interesting where the dialogue is often light.
I think this movie portrays the subject of gender transformation with all the right emotional weight on the matter. It isn’t a movie that perhaps resonates with you for long or will change the way people feel about the topic at hand and that is perhaps its biggest flaw. It makes you invest in the characters, but not in the message.
Last Updated: January 28, 2016