Eddie Redmayne has shown his incredible capacity for reinvention in The Theory Of Everything. The dashing freckle-faced British actor pulls off the ultimate identity overhaul in The Danish Girl, portraying gender-reassignment trailblazer Einar Wegener, who was one of the first to make a sex change via surgery. For an actor, this has to be the challenge of a lifetime as you have to tackle the very nature of character and identity itself. Redmayne gives the greatest performance of his career in this intimate and less technical term – that already portraying Stephen Hawking, which won him the Oscar last year. Redmayne reunites with Les Miserables director Tom Hooper and himself along with co-star Alicia Vikander in one of the most talked-about films of 2015.
Even though the film is set nearly a century ago, between 1926 and 1931, the film couldn’t be any timelier in light of recent headlines- especially the legalization of gay marriage. Some may fuss that this is too little too late but The Danish Girl has been in the works since David Ebershoff’s novel was published 15 years ago. One thing that can be said about The Danish Girl is it’s certainly a “weak tea” version of this emotional story. Hooper has scrubbed this story of the prickliest details and left us with an impeccably acted, gorgeously shot, and well-crafted story – but is it possible to have all these and still not feel a connection to the film? If anything The Danish Girl might be the most confusing film I’ve written about in 2015. On one hand we have Eddie Redmayne who’s performance is raw, intimate, and who’s desire for acceptance is so relatable that your heart breaks for him. Then you have The Danish Girl that has been scrubbed of all the “dirty” details that would cause society not to see a LGBT movie, which in essence rips the soul out of a beautiful film and leaves it just a gorgeous looking corpse.
The Danish Girl first introduces Redmayne’s character, as a dapperly dressed Danish gentleman, who’s making eyes at a gallery opening at his wife, Gerda (Vikander). The first time Einar (Redmayne) dons ladies clothes, the idea is Gerda’s. Already married, the couple both are artists, and though Einar’s work is taken seriously, a gallery owner tells Gerda that she could be great, if only she had the right subject matter. In an offhand suggestion ( while waiting for her model who’s running behind), Gerda asks her husband to slip on a pair of stockings and silk pumps, which sets in motion a chain of events that she would never have anticipated. It’s a confusing moment Redmayne’s character, who has long repressed what made him different, and who later tells his wife. “You helped bring Lili to life, but she was always there.”
During this period, the medical community would respond to such identity issues as “perverse” patients and label them schizophrenic – choosing to shock them to eradicate any “gender” issues out of them. Hooper touches on this in a very cursory manner but doesn’t even nearly come close to delve into the barbaric treatment this section of society dealt with during this period. How can we connect to the whole story if we don’t endure the whole struggle? Making progress isn’t all polka dots and moonbeams. Sometimes progress can have truly dark moments and not exploring that was a critical error on Tom Hooper’s part.
The best part of the film was when Einar 1st appeared in public as Lili. Einar ( who is understandably not the biggest fan of going to public gatherings) agrees to accompany his wife dressed as his imaginary cousin Lili. The resulting moment is a coming out as thrilling as Cinderella’s ball as Lili can feel the gaze of everyone in the room on her. It was at this moment that Einar/Lili first realized how beautiful women feel all the time in public. Now before we go lauding praise on Tom Hooper, let’s be clear that it was Redmayne’s approach to the scene that allowed this moment to sparkle. Eddie Redmayne truly lets’s his eyes do the talking as he has this look of exhilaration and such joy as feels that he’s finally who he’s always wanted to be.
Redmayne also makes sure to let the audience into his character’s inner struggle. There are points in the film where Einar/Lili seems to be torn about by his duty to his wife Greda and his desire to be who he truly is. At one point he even admits to his childhood pal Hans, he’s considered suicide, but held back because he knew he would be killing Lili as well.
It would be a critical error on my part if we didn’t discuss Alicia Vikander’s portrayal of Greda as well. Alicia gives a tremendous performance as Einar’s conflicted wife. It’s easy to see how much she loves him but in the same instance, you can tell just how much she would love to have her “husband” back. In fact, at one point she tells Einar “Stop it … Stop these Games” to which he responds “This is no game … this is who I am.” One thing that struck me as odd was why they didn’t dive into the Bi-Sexuality of Greda as well? Could this be yet another example of scrubbing all the “dirty” details?
The story of The Danish Girl is the performances of Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander. Alicia Vikander has thrust herself in the discussion Oscar discussion for Best Actress and barring some catastrophic failure she will be nominated for her role in this film. Eddie Redmayne is once again a serious contender for Best Actor and at this point is in a Two-Horse Race with Leonardo Dicaprio. Who will win between those two? At this point, it’s too close to call.
The Tragedy in all this is just how safe Tom Hooper played it when developing The Danish Girl. It’s easy to watch The Danish Girl and admire the film, but it’s hard to love the film. I simply couldn’t connect with the movie, through no fault of the actors but more so on the director. Maybe the thinking was is that a vast group of people would be more likely to see a movie about a transgender character if it were offered up as awards bait, to use a phrase that’s truly apropos.