Friday, December 25, 2015
LGBT Film Review: The Danish Girl
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.
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.