The Danish Girl (2015)
I remember seeing the promotional stills of Eddie Redmayne made up as a woman, not really sure what was going on there. Was he playing a role if a woman? or a man who dresses as a woman – a transvestite. Not reading into the image I was left with that confusion. The more I learned and read about The Danish Girl (2015) it became clear that Redmayne was depicting the first transsexual female Einar Wegener who transforms into Lili Elbe. His first role post winning his Oscar for The Theory of Everything (2014) a brave choice for the model turned actor, would it pay off for him. On a personal level the film on its general release just didn’t appeal to me, however I thought I’d take the chance to see what was going on, was it all it was considered to be.
Firstly the billing is all wrong, as much as this film is about Lili Elbe and her struggle to find her true and natural identity, this is more about Alicia Vikander who plays the Gerda who has slightly more screen time, more time is spent with her as she adjust to her husband becoming someone else. This is Vikander‘s film and I’m not shy about that, Redmayne performance-wise might have supporting role at times.
With an increased awareness and sensitivity to LGBT issues I thought The Danish Girl who be dig deeper than it actually went. I mean this is marking an historical event that allowed for change to happen for those who were born in the wrong body. Instead we have a pretty film with pretty people who prance about in their life of luxury. It felt far too easy for the characters to accept the issues. OK they are living in the Danish art-world, usually seen to be more enlightened, open to new ideas and excepting of the outsider. Probably made even easier as Gerda herself a painter at first enjoys having Lili Elbe, then a persona of Einar Wegener who came very quickly to enjoy those times. It was the experience of being the other gender if only skin deep it was a sensation that felt natural to him. We only see him/her enjoying that through stroking silk clothes etc, the touch, the look, all very shallow. There’s no depth at all beyond that and the over-acting of gestures, going from learning a new gender to just being, its all just surface which I feel lets down that whole audience who the film is wanting to talk to and about.
Carol (2015) which I saw a few weeks ago, another LGBT film I was drawn into far more, because it worked as a romance, it just didn’t matter that you had two women falling in love, going on an affair in the 1950’s. Even exploring the effects of Carol’s private life in a divorce that’s believed to be her fault, fully accepting her identity. Whereas in The Danish Girl the issues are just danced around. I can only imagine that it would have been a massive upheaval for all involved in the couples lives. The marriage becoming null and void in the 1920’s, the daunting nature of being the first patient to undergo these life changing operations. They touch on issues such as the loss if a marriage, Lili Elbe exploring her new identity and sexuality.
The film may have been made in the same decade that Carol was set, they would have skimmed the issues as if they are just happening to others, an illness that has to be treated. They would be outsiders and probably directed by Douglas Sirk or Nicholas Ray plenty more emotion that just silly pouting. It’s like Redmayne was just posing in another gender, not a stretch when you see where he came from. That’s not to say he’s not capable of conveying more on-screen. Danish Girl reflects the time it was set-in, restrained and picturesque, not confusing, scary and daunting.
Sadly I have to say that as far as film has come in terms of LGBT, there was plenty of progress made in the last few years. We have more positive depictions from Pride (2014), Blue is the Warmest Colour (2012) et el, the outsider is coming in from the fringes. As far as this film is concerned it could learn a thing or to from Boys Don’t Cry (1999). There of moments that try to be sensitive but they come across as being more of the same ultimately. The only time that we get closer to any real danger or drama is when he is visiting a number of doctors but that soon fades to nothing. It could be so much more but falls short, especially for Alicia Vikander who trying to make the script more than it is – half finished.