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Dan's Review: Vikander overshadows Redmayne in "The Danish Girl"

Dec 24, 2015 01:28PM ● Published by Dan Metcalf

Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl - © 2015 - Focus Features

The Danish Girl (Focus Features)

Rated R for some sexuality and full nudity.

Starring Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ben Whishaw, Amber Heard, Sebastian Koch, Emerald Fennell, Adrian Schiller.

Written by Lucinda Coxon, based on the book by David Ebershoff.

Directed by Tom Hooper.

GRADE: B+

REVIEW:

Transgenderism is not a new thing, but it’s not that old, either. Sex change operations began in the early 20th Century and have received little attention with the exception of a few notable cases. One was Renee Richards (formerly Richard Raskind) a tennis player who caught international attention when switching from men’s to women’s competition. More recently, Caitlyn Jenner (Formerly Olympic gold medalist Bruce Jenner) caused all kinds of ruckus by going through gender reassignment on the way to promoting a Kardashian spin-off reality TV show. The first known person to undergo sexual reassignment surgery was Danish artist Einar Wegener, who would later self-identify as Lili Elbe. His and her story is the focus of The Danish Girl.

Eddie Redmayne plays Wegener, a successful artist married to  Gerda Gottlieb (Alicia Vikander), an aspiring artist. When one of Gerda’s female models cancels, she asks her husband to wear a few items of women’s clothing as a standby measure. Wearing the clothing awakens another identity in Einar, who begins to fantasize about being a woman. Amused and intrigued by her husband’s alter ego “Lili,” Gerda plays along and willingly participates in dressing him and passing him off as a woman to upper class socialites. Gerda soon discovers that Lili has taken over much of what used to be her male spouse, and begins to feel as though her love is unrequited.

Einar eventually seeks medical help, but when doctors try to get him institutionalized, the couple flees to Paris, where her paintings of Lili gain popularity. Soon, Einar can longer go on living as a man, and seeks out a doctor who agrees to perform the sexual reassignment surgery. The first phase of the surgery (removal of genitalia) goes well, but in order to feel complete as Lili, the patient opts to go even further (construction of female genitalia), with less optimal results. The pain of losing her husband also takes its toll on Gerda.

The Danish Girl is a well-crafted film, with another good performance from last year’s Academy Award winner Redmayne. His performance as a transgender is overshadowed by Vikander, who is required to exhibit the vast spectrum of emotions one would experience if their spouse could no longer be their spouse (especially in time when such things were not as well-known as today).

Tom Hooper’s film does tend to favor imagery over substance, and some dialogue that seems written for contemporary understanding of transgenderism. Such discussion successfully adds humanity and compassion for those who deal with transgender issue, even if such dialogue seems out of place for the ere. There are also some clichéd visual metaphors that cheapen the story, which tends to lean heavily on contrived cinematic license, rather than actual history (Gerda was not as accommodating in real life than she was portrayed in the movie). Speaking of accuracy, it should be noted that the movie is based on David Eberhoff’s book, which is a mostly contrived version of events embellished for dramatic purposes.

The story of how Einar Wegener became Lili Elbe is interesting, but if tales of sexual discovery make you squeamish, The Danish Girl might not be your cup of tea.


The Danish Girl Trailer

Arts+Entertainment movies movie reviews Transgender Art House
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