Friday, December 25, 2015

LGBT Film Review: The Danish Girl

Synopsis:

The remarkable love story inspired by the lives of artists Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener. Lili and Gerda's marriage and work evolve as they navigate Lili's groundbreaking journey as a transgender pioneer.

My Review:

As someone that's intersex and trans like the real-life Lili Elbe was, and also as someone who has read the fictionalized re-telling/book of Lili's life that this film is based off of, I had to go into this knowing that it will NOT be perfect, that it will take a few liberties since in some ways, Lili's life is a mystery. Of what we have of her story and of what we know of her, I'd say The Danish Girl did an excellent job at fleshing out her body dysphoria, her longing to not only dress as a woman but BE the woman that she is, and her sexual desires, balancing that out with her marriage to Gerda Wegener. The approach to this film was tasteful and inviting: it's lush, it's moody, and it's soft in its lighting and general mood and tone. For the art history buff, this was also a treat. All the paintings and sketches were a throwback to the 1920s era, very gorgeous. It's almost needless to say, but Eddie Redmayne shines as Einar as equally as to when he's Lili. It was a spectacular performance that not surprisingly, he's going to get many accolades for on top of some he has earned already. And rising star Alicia Vikander is a fine Gerda, so opposite from Einar/Lili, so spunky and fierce as she is also demure and composed. The two together are so convincing as husband and wife and as two equally successful painters. Despite their differences (Einar/Lili is shy and submissive but more successful, focused on landscapes from their childhood past whereas Gerda is dominant and independent, but struggling to be taken more seriously, focused on "contemporary" work, mostly "racy" self-portraits of attractive women), they work so well as a couple that on appearance it seems like they're bound to last forever. Until the plot thickens, and that's when the movie and Lili's story takes off into the unknown, "experimental" territory. From doing what was thought to be just a role-playing game, Lili and Gerda both realize who Lili really is, what her sexuality is, and ultimately what she desires: sex reassignment surgery. The real-life Lili is personally my hero. The film very carefully made sure that she was brought justice on screen. Did they do it well? Yes. But honestly, it was too simplified. A complex life, story, and person was condensed for a "mainstream" audience which didn't surprise me, but disappointed me just the same. Lili's intersexuality was erased entirely, somewhat implied, but still erasure nonetheless. Like the novel, the movie, too, felt more like a gender-studies course. There wasn't as much heart, soul, and emotion as there should have been, not enough character development to really make Lili's story a HUMAN story. The Danish Girl was a valiant effort with a very Oscar-bait bent to it, and that's okay. But this film (and Lili) deserved more and even better.

8 comments:

  1. Interesting to read your review, V. I'm still torn about seeing it myself. I know some transgender people have had serious anti feelings on the movie. Then I think there's a problem with period pieces like this that aren't "that" far in history especially of wanting to judge them by our own current mores. It also can be easy to get lost in trying to show a marginalized group/person to mainstream audiences without getting all sorts of things lost; I'm sure they did the best they could to prevent that.

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    1. I think the anti-feelings are valid, but I don't think they're necessary either. Even the book that it's based off of was written by a cis person. The issue for me has nothing to do with the "cis issue" (even though of course, I wish they could have had a trans woman play the role), but with how incomplete, shallow, and "basic" it was in general. The book was the same: there was not much in emotional depth, beyond just the surface. Most period pieces, no matter the subject matter, usually and typically gets "lost" in many ways. In this case, not only all sorts of things were lost, but they also took some liberties and the intersex erasure, I wished they would have surprised me by NOT doing that, lol, but I knew they would. Overall, it IS worth seeing, but for all the hype, I was expecting something AMAZING and what was there was just okay. They did the best they could, though, I'll give them that, and I can only hope from here, more trans films will be better, with less on the basics and more on the layers and depth of that character other than just their gender identity.

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  2. I'm really surprised they erased the intersex aspect. That surprises me and is disappointing!! Could have been such a great window of opportunity to open the doors of communication with people about that!

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    1. Yeah it really could have, but most likely they thought that because this is for a mainstream audience, introducing the intersex aspect of things would be "too much" for them lol. They played things too safe in general.

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    2. Very. Although I understand that they didn't want to offend anybody or potentially offend (like they didn't want to offend the trans community and they didn't want to turn off the cis community when it comes to the trans issues/struggles), the price paid for that is that essentially, they took away the emotional investment and character development which is the reason why we see a movie in the first place! Soo much was there and they didn't do anything with it, all surface, no internal/emotional depth. Too many missed opportunities, a shame on so many levels.

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    3. Yeah, if they take away character development, that's what makes movies great.

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    4. Exactly, without the character development and emotional investment, all you got is a pretty movie with no substance. Its heart was in the right place though!

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