The Danish Girl can very well be called Eddie Redmayne’s movie; the man owns each and every frame he features in with a consistently riveting performance as both the characters of Einar and Lili. As Einar Wegener, a famous landscape artist in Copenhagen, he is impish, twitchy, polite and a loving husband to portrait artist Gerda (Alicia Vikander). As Lili, he is fabulous, exquisite, intense. Never thought the guy from Theory of Everything could look so darn pretty! Man, those perfectly coloured lips and delicately poised hands! The bashful flutter of the eyelids got a bit too much though.
Now that I’m done gushing, let me attempt to summarize the film for you.
Plot: Einar and Gerda have been living as a happy married couple in Denmark for over 6 years. While Einar is a renowned artist, Gerda is still struggling to find an art dealer who will sell her portraits. One fine day, Gerda’s female model is late and she asks her helpful husband to stand in instead. Einar puts on the model’s stockings and heels and positions her ballet dress onto himself. To take this up a notch and continue the fun and games, Gerda dresses Einar up as a woman (Voila, Lili!) and takes him out. Not a very good idea, Lili ends up kissing a man and loving it. Einar realizes that what he was dismissing as ‘humouring his wife’ had deeper connotations within himself. Gerda brought Lili to life but she had always been there inside him. From here commences a strange and wonderful tale of Einar/Lili’s existential crisis, Gerda’s bravery (and loyalty), acceptance and transforming relationships that culminates in Lili choosing to undergo the first sex re-assignment surgery ever attempted in order to become “entirely myself”.
In the initial stages of the film, Einar appears to be the perfect partner-he is caring, earns well, loves his wife. There are subtle hints towards the fact that he may not be as comfortable in this role though-he does not like going to the artists’ ball and avoids social gatherings in general for he feels that he is “performing” at such events, Gerda saying that the first time she kissed Einar, it felt like “kissing myself”, Einar’s fascination with Gerda’s ankles and her satin nightdress (which Gerda finds him wearing once at the opportune moment when she is stripping off his clothes to have sex..ouch).
In the beginning, Einar does not appear to be overtly effeminate or too far removed from his biological gender, which is what I appreciate in the film. The audience is not made to believe that he is a long-suffering angst-ridden victim of his own body who is depressed in order to gather sympathy. None of the “victim facing the wrath of society” scenes. This is condensed to two doctors who give equally unsettling diagnoses for Einar’s feelings-perversion and schizophrenia. Their short scenes drive home the point well enough.
The fact that “Lili” had been dormant, but never removed from “Einar” came as a shock to both Einar and the audience alike. Gerda’s paintings of “Lili” as a muse reinforced her in Einar’s mind. Einar’s physical and psychological transformation into Lili and his ultimate inability to get out of Lili’s skin was a gradual one, a process of slow realization. He painstakingly cultivated Lili’s mannerisms and body language and the end result was a diva. I could easily believe the fact that Lili was in the wrong body.
Gerda’s amazing support throughout the story cannot be sidelined either. I liked that her character was not overly dramatized, there was no barrage of tears, no venting out her frustration on Einar to create artificially emotional scenes and no extra marital affairs to help her sail through the loss of her erstwhile husband. A strong, rooted woman who became her husband’s pillar of strength. Even when she kissed Hans (Einar’s childhood friend, played by the dapper Matthias Schoenaerts), it was due to a primal need to ‘feel’ a man’s presence and to bid goodbye to what she had with her husband once upon a time.
Two brilliantly performed feminist touches in the film-
1) Gerda’s ability to make a man feel naked with just a look while painting him. She explains how women are used to being ‘looked at’ but how difficult it is for a man to “submit” to a woman’s gaze. Badass Gerda \m/
2) Lili’s self-consciousness at the Artists’ Ball wherein she experienced the male gaze for the first time. Men stealing glances or outrightly ogling, approaching her to start a conversation and be seen with a desirable woman. Lili’s discomfort (bordering on fear) was only too real, sadly.
Best Scene: The last scene where Gerda asks Hans to “let Lili fly” is one of the most touching and exhilarating moments in the film. I won’t say more since it will spoil the climax for you (if this article hasn’t already, sorry couldn’t contain myself).
There is much more that I wish to touch upon for the film is replete with memorable moments but I hope that I’ve motivated you enough to watch The Danish Girl by now. I hope you don’t have just 20 other people in the hall, which is what happened with me. Go! Shoo!