By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
Earlier this year, for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, Eddie Redmayne won both a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for Best Actor. After watching his phenomenal performance in The Danish Girl, I believe that Redmayne has a strong chance at winning these awards for the second year in a row. Redmayne portrays Lili Elbe, one of the first known persons who underwent a sexual reassignment surgery and has, though time, become a hero and icon for transgender people all over the world. Redmayne brings a genuine humanity and haunting vulnerability to Elbe. He and his co-star Alicia Vikander both deliver such exceptional performances, making this film a must see.
During the 1920s in Copenhagen, Denmark, married artists Einar and Gerda Wegener (Redmayne, Vikander) attempt ro achieve success through their paintings. The seemingly happy husband and wife are quite different from one another; though their contrasting personalities complement each other well. On one particular occasion, the brash and outspoken Gerda asks her more introverted, socially awkward husband to stand in for a female model for one of her paintings. The moment that Einar dons women’s clothing, some repressed feelings surface, revealing that he feels like a woman trapped in a man’s body. This epiphany eventually takes its toll on the marriage, as Gerda tries to understand what Einar/Lili is going through.
Written by Lucinda Coxon, and directed by Tom Hooper, based on the book by David Ebershoff, The Danish Girl is a powerful and moving portrait of a transgender person going through a major crisis during a time when ignorance and prejudice was more widespread. The exquisite direction and the superb performances really elevate this film despite its problems with the development of its main character. The portrayal of Einar’s “awakening” plays out so suddenly that it comes across as a bit contrived. I found it quite hard to believe that Einar, who displays so little personal conflict at the beginning of the film, would discover his identity problems the moment he puts on a dress. What probably is a life long struggle is reduced to a few sequences and the change is almost instantaneously.
Despite this flaw, the film comes at a highly relevant time when more transgender people live openly, some of whom have been in the public eye recently. Redmayne delivers a performance full of heart and pain that it is difficult to not be moved in some way. Alicia Vikander also performs beautifully as Wegener’s loving, but also pained spouse who probably wishes she had never awakened this side of Einar. The movie also stars Matthias Schoenaerts as Einar’s childhood friend Hans Axgil, Ben Whishaw as Lili’s first suitor Henrik, and Amber Heard as Oola, Gerda’s closest confidant.
The film also has an absolutely gorgeous score by Alexandre Desplat. I also strongly believe that Desplat has a great chance of winning accolades for his beautiful compositions for this movie. I’m not sure if Desplat is a definite win as I feel Redmayne or Vikander are, but I feel that this movie deserves the nominations and some attention by movie goers. The Danish Girl is an understated, but lovely film that I hope doesn’t fly below everyone’s radar.