The Danish Girl
Based on the true story of Einar Wegener, a transgender pioneer, this film contains powerful and moving performances from both co-stars, Eddie Redmayne as Einar and Alicia Vikander as his wife, Gerda.
Yes, Einar Wegener was married, for several years, to lovely Gerda. The year was 1926. The city was Copenhagen. They were both artists of some local repute. He was noted for colorful landscapes, and she, though obviously talented, was still trying to find her signature style. One art gallery owner suggested that she needed to find better subject matter.
Gerda was in the middle of painting a ballerina who had an annoying habit of not showing up for her posing sessions. Exasperated, Gerda asked Einar to pose, wearing part of her outfit. It triggered something in him, something long dormant. He began to enjoy modeling for her in women’s clothing, which at first didn’t concern her too much; were they not artists, and were they not in love?
It was originally a joke that they went to the party with him dressed as “Lili,” the persona he adopted when he was cross-dressing. But he was taking this more seriously than she thought he was, especially when, looking for artistic inspiration, she decides to paint “Lili,” and embellish her with certain, ah, female characteristics. What she created was lovely to behold. So lovely, in fact, that he wanted to become that creation on the canvas. As if by pretending long enough that he was somebody else, he could actually change his personality.
Now Gerda is not so amused. Though she has suddenly found artistic recognition for her “Lili” series, she becomes increasingly distressed as it becomes obvious that her husband is more comfortable being “Lili.” He even finds it fun to flirt with a man at a party, a man who is himself a homosexual, and assumes Einar leans that way. He doesn’t, actually, but neither is he interested in Gerda in the customary way, either. He feels he’s betraying “Lili” to do so, and then proceeds to tell her that “Lili” has always lived within him, she just hasn’t had a chance to come out yet, until now.
She takes him to lots of doctors. She looks up his childhood friend (parental figures are strangely absent throughout), figuring he might be able to clarify the continuity issue, but he winds up hitting on her, which doesn’t simplify anything.
Can the love of Einar and Gerda survive this crisis of identity? What should they do about who they are, and who they want to be? Yes, sure, when you get married you stick together for better or worse, but this? Who could have predicted this? And who knows what to do once it happens?
Watching Eddie Redmayne slowly “get in touch with his feminine side” will make many red-blooded males uncomfortable, but his transformation is so amazing that it becomes impossible to ignore or dismiss. Alicia Vikander shows lots of emotional range, as well, and deserves recognition for her almost-entirely-sympathetic performance.
Not everyone will want to watch this small-scoped “indie” movie. But the performances await larger recognition. “The Danish Girl” has Oscar written all over it.
Questions for Discussion:
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen is the Supply Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Mabank, Texas