The Danish Girl

Lili Elbie was one of the first known famed transgender women who was a pioneer and is still an inspiration to the trans community. In the early 1930s she planned on killing herself when she realised she could not continue to be a woman inside a male body. Opportunity saved her from this so she went and pushed the boundaries of medicine in an attempt to become one of the first sexually reassigned patients. As you can imagine the 1930s was not the ideal time for transgender people or for anyone who was not what society had deemed normal. THE DANISH GIRL is Tom Hooper’s movie version of Lili’s discovery and journey as told from Lucinda Coxon’s screenplay of the heavily fictionalised novel from David Ebershoff. It is out now at most cinemas from Universal Pictures Australia, it is rated MA15+ and runs for 119mins.

 

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BY JASON KING

THE DANISH GIRL immediately establishes the loving and sexual relationship of bohemian happily-married artists, Einar Wegener and Gerda Gottlieb. Einar is a much more successful artist than Gerda and is exhibited in galleries, Gerda endeavours to be exhibited but her “portraits” are holding her back. While finishing one of her paintings of a dancer and their closest friend Ulla, Gerda needs a model for the leg pose and so gets Einar on a podium with stockings on, ballet shoe on as best as can be, and the portrait’s dress draped over him. It is in this scene that Lili is awakened in Einar and Lili is a different person to Einar in every way.

Gerda and Einar start playing dressups as more of a game and Einar loathes going to the artsy elite functions so Gerda persuades him to go dressed as Lili. It is in this instance that Lili starts to become the dominant embodiment inside the boby of Einar. Lili has never felt so natural and is seduced by how natural it feels for her, add to that she loves all the fabrics, the lifestyle and most of all the ability to be who she truly should be.

As Lili becomes more comfortable in her body Gerda paints her portraits and at the start actually encourages Einar to be Lili, this sees Gerda’s paintings become incredibly famous and she becomes exhibited throughout Europe, it should be known Gerda continued painting portraits of Lili up until she died.

As Einar says goodbye to that persona and inhabits the true spirit of Lili Gerda and Lili’s relationship becomes somewhat strained due to the ending of their loving marriage between man and woman but this evolves into Gerda being Lili’s greatest ally and support through the troubling times. Rumour from factual history claims the possibility Gerda was a lesbian but the movie ignores this part of the story.

 

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THE DANISH GIRL is one of the greatest movies of 2016 (really 2015 for Oscar’s sake) and one of the first things I said at the conclusion of the movie that hurt me to say, “I don’t think Leo deserves the Oscar again this year, Redmayne is a revelation.” In his second nominated Oscar performances in two years both THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING and THE DANISH GIRL are Oscar vehicles, beautifully designed and made with everything nearly flawless and harrowing with a climb and fight against adversity, something the Academy salivates for. Redmayne is deserving of the award and I found his performance in this far superior to his channeling of Stephen Hawking. Lili’s transformation out of Einar is just remarkable and incredibly subtle and THE DANISH GIRL provides the most elegantly beautiful mangina ever seen onscreen. Also take note of the burlesque-like peep show Einar attends to study the movements of the performer, easily the most powerful scene in the movie, it was breathtaking.

But equaling Redmayne in his performance is the most amazing Alicia Vikander, a “supporting acting person” with more screen time than the lead, I love this woman and while she was Oscar nominated for her amazing turn as the heartbroken but always supporting Gerda I feel she more deserved a nomination and win for her overlooked turn as a cyborg in EX MACHINA, a performance I rated as one of the best (for supporting) of 2015 in the film I ranked Number 1 for 2015.

I must also give special mention to three superb actors filling the support roles; Amber Heard is this ray of coffee buzzing sunlight on any set, I loved her character of Ulla and longed for more of it but sadly she is a small player in the bigger picture. There was also one of my all time favourite loves, Ben Whishaw, as a confidant and interest throughout the movie, Henrik, I always want more of Whishaw, but alas also a bit player. Then there is Matthias Schoenaerts as Hans, an actor I am not overly fond of but who was just marvelous in this movie, I was crushing on him over my future husband, Whishaw and that is unheard of!!

 

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Hooper captures an elegant beauty to the era and the costumes are magnificent, in-fact everything about this movie is as beautiful as an Impressionist’s Canvas. The costumes from Paco Delgado are incredible, the cinematography from Danny Cohen is breathtaking, each scene so nuanced and perfectly lit, one scene with Gerda sitting on a bench in the rain made the lady next to me literally gasp at its beauty. Hooper again pairing with Alexandre Desalt was another stroke of brilliance to finish the film off giving THE DANISH GIRL a sense of wonder and magic.

There has been some negative controversy surround the film though; it is labelled as a true story (in Australia “inspired by a true story”) and Australia has it correct, this is based on a fictional book about Lili and in reality Ulla and Henrik don’t exist, the real story spanned years and years and Lili even had a man she hoped to marry. If you want that true story of Lili, Einar and Gerda I suggest you locate a copy of her own autobiography published in 1933 and titled Man into Woman.

The story of Gerda is as harrowing and interesting as that of Lili and I would love to see her story on the screen one day, the later years of her life are tragically sad and so undeserved after her perfection in the person she was with her support and love for Einar and then Lili.

 

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Regardless of the controversy I don’t take this as a documentary, I take it as a fictional movie loosely based on a brilliant man and later two brilliant women, it is beautiful to behold and shook me to the core, the greatest part of the story and the most unique in a “gay” or “trans” movie set in this time was the lack of hatred and negativity towards Lili, yes there definitely was some, especially from the medical industry as they try to get “help” for Lili but those closest to her rally around and do not abandon and turn away from her.

I do believe Leo will get his Oscar this year but of all the lead actors I have seen of the nominated performances for 2015/16 Oscars Eddie Redmayne is miles ahead of the pack.

 

4 and a Half Pops

 

 

 is the owner and editor of Salty Popcorn and Spooning Australia. He is a movie, food, restaurant, wine, chocolate, bacon, burger and brussels sprouts addict. He is a member of the Australian Film Critics Association and has been in the Australian movie industry for 25yrs. He loves watching people trip over and is Leonardo DiCaprio’s biggest fan. All the social media links to the right and up will allow you to abuse, troll or stalk him :).

** All images courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the publisher – credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.