MOVIE REVIEW: The Danish Girl



Tom Hooper's new film, "The Danish Girl" based on the fictionalized account of Lili Elbe, spearheads what has been a banner 2015 year for LGBT film subjects.  This film is not about a character looking for love.  All that person wants is to be the truest version of themselves on the inside in a time where what that means on the outside would not be accepted publicly.  The philosophy of it all brings us back to Ralph Waldo Emerson when he said, "What lies behind you and what lies in front of you, pales in comparison to what lies inside of you."  "The Danish Girl" delivers a story that matches the matter of Emerson's thoughts on the past, future, and inside.

The reigning Oscar winner for Best Actor, Eddie Redmayne of "The Theory of Everything," stars as Danish landscape painter Einer Wegener in late 1920's Copenhagen.  As a male artist from a good family, Einer is successful and well regarded in his country's art circles.  He is matched with his equally creative and passionate wife of six years, Gerda Gottlieb, played by Miss 2015 Alicia Vikander of "Ex Machina" and "The Man From U.N.C.L.E."  She too is a starving artist and less of a trophy, whose paintings have not found the same wide audience as her husband's, creating a slight bit of creative jealousy and resentment.  Adding to their professional stress is the marital difficulty where they have been unable as of yet to have children.

Needing a stand-in for an absent model at their home studio, Gerta humorously asks Einer to wear a pair of nylon leggings and women's shoes to finish a portion of her latest painting.  In doing so, the sensation of that role-playing triggers a titillation in Einer.  The feeling becomes a game and a spark for the two of them.  Borrowing some theater wigs and wardrobe, Einer tries to fully cross-dress as a woman to a party portraying a different person.  He gives her the name Lili Elbe.  Soon, Einer comes to prefer being Lili and finds a homosexual suitor in the form of Ben Whishaw's Henrik.  

The repressed feminine feelings Einer has held back since youth begin to resurface and dominate his heart and personality.  In Paris for her newly commissioned work, Gerta visits with art dealer Hans Axgil, played by Matthia Schoenaerts of "Far From the Madding Crowd."  Hans is an old childhood friend of Einer's that Gerta hopes could help reignite her husband's art and make sense of his identity crisis.  When it becomes too much, Einer seeks medical analysis only to be bombarded and shamed with the labels of insanity, embarrassment, chemical imbalance, schizophrenia, perversion, and a mistake of nature.  Only the German doctor Warnekros (Sebastian Koch of "Bridge of Spies") offers acceptance and a possible chance at treatment through unheard-of surgical transformation.

"The Danish Girl" is a film comprised of two central and tremendously difficult performances from Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander.  With every nervous quiver of titillation and every accelerated breath of anxiety, Redmayne dives head first into this mentally and physically soul-bearing role.  This is better and more intricate work than "The Theory of Everything" a year ago.  Vikander is unencumbered by what would be the "thankless and hopeless spouse" role in a lesser film.  She adds substantial courage and her own vivaciousness to do more than just worry and cry.  Both are phenomenal subjects to watch.

Tom Hooper comes to "The Danish Girl" after Oscar-winning success on "The King's Speech" and "Les Miserables" and the production here is equally first-rate.  The makeup and costume departments worked overtime in their metamorphic and period-accurate style.  Playwright Lucinda Coxon's screenplay emotes with a diary-like quality and cinematographer Danny Cohen's range to move the camera unhinged around each scene free this film from feeling like a dressed-up stage play.  The film exudes a winning empathy for the quandary of identity at the center of the narrative.  "The Danish Girl" is a performance-driven film with the talent to carry its weighty and controversial themes.

LESSON #1: THE PLIGHT OF TRANSGENDER AND TRANSSEXUAL PEOPLE-- You read the grossly misguided medical labels given to Einer/Lili earlier in the review.  People of differing sexual orientations and gender identities to the majority have always been persecuted, ostracized, and looked upon as lesser, broken souls.  People of supposed higher moral authority keep thinking these people can be "fixed," are not born that way, or are forever living in damning sin.  That lack of acceptance is morally wrong and we are still learning that today.

LESSON #2: THE EXTENT OF SHAMELESSNESS-- When those different people are persecuted, the feeling of shame is thrust upon them.  They are bullied to feel sorry for who or what they are, even when they feel it is right.  Shame needs to be replaced with pride.  People of different orientations need to be proud of who they are and insensible to disgrace.  We ask people all the time to "be themselves."  Afford them the same courtesy. 

LESSON #3: FINDING AND FORMING YOUR PERSONAL IDENTITY-- No matter your gender or orientation, coming to terms with your self-identity is huge step towards handling the plight of Lesson #1 and embracing the shamelessness of Lesson #2.  This goes beyond picking labels and steers more towards becoming your own person.  A fully-formed personal identity is when the outside matches the spirit and heart on the inside.