ReelBob: ‘The Danish Girl’

By Bob Bloom

“The Danish Girl” is an emotional experience about identity and being true to oneself — no matter the cost.

The movie features strong performances from Eddie Redmayne as artist Einer Wegener and Alicia Vikander as his loyal wife, portrait painter Gerda Wegener.

The film, set in the late 1920s, follows Einer’s slow realization that, in actuality, he is a woman trapped in a man’s body.

This poignant biopic chronicles Einer’s struggles as he searches for a way to reveal his true persona, a woman he names Lili Elbe.

It also deals with the conflicts enveloping Gerda, as she tries to support her husband — even as he is slipping away from her.

Redmayne gives a touchingly nuanced performance as a man who bit by bit comes to believe that his body is a false shell covering the real individual inside.

A pivotal scene finds Einer standing naked in front of a mirror scrutinizing his body. He crosses his legs in a manner that covers his male genitalia, providing him the illusion of having a vagina.

It is a powerful moment, bathed in silence.

Redmayne’s controlled and conflicted performance is more complex and stronger than even his Academy Award-winning turn as Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything.”

He perfectly displays Einer’s confusion as well as the guilt his desire to transform has on Gerda.

Vikander’s part is more demonstrative and difficult. Her love for Einer compels her to support him, as he seeks answers to a dilemma he barely understands. Yet, she also resents him as Lili becomes more dominant and pulls away to seek a life of her own.

Director Tom Hooper eschews sensationalism and any exploitive opportunities. He tells the story of this remarkable couple in a sober and sympathetic manner.

And that is partially the movie’s biggest flaw as Hooper seems reluctant to offend or confront moviegoers with the harsher realities of Einer’s struggles not so much with himself, but with the standards and dictates of a society still bound by rigid demarcations of gender and class.

At times, Hooper seems aloof and too clinical in spots where more emotion could have raised audience empathy for Einer/Lili.

Einer, after years of seeking out doctors for help — some of whom wanted to commit him as mentally unstable — finally discovers one who understands the artist’s problem and offers a solution.

The doctor explains that he can operate, altering Einer to Lili permanently. He warns that the procedure can be very dangerous, but that, if it succeeds, Lili will have the life she so strongly yearns.

“The Danish Girl” is a tender and heartfelt movie about a transgender pioneer at a time when such a notion was considered a mental abnormality.

Watching Einer’s transformation into Lili, and Gerda’s acceptance of her, is the film’s spine. Their love and commitment ignored boundaries and convention.

“The Danish Girl” will open your eyes and raise your appreciation and understanding for people such as Einer/Lili. The movie ably demonstrates that what is under the skin trumps the outward façade we wear daily.

Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and The Film Yap (filmyap.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at bobbloomjc@gmail.com or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Other reviews by Bloom can be found at Rottentomatoes: www.rottentomatoes.com.

 

THE DANISH GIRL
3½ stars out of 4
(R), nudity, sexual content, mature themes

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