The Danish Girl (2015)

The Danish Girl

This extraordinary film is a two-headed hydra that swings between an exquisitely beautiful study of how little separates the genders, and a dark biopic of social prejudice against those who want release from their birth gender. Based loosely on the first recorded case of gender reassignment surgery, it’s a story of married Danish artists Einar and Gerda Wegener whose relationship is transformed when Einar is encouraged by his wife to express the feminine self trapped within him.

The acting virtuosity of Eddie Redmayne as Einer is the beating heart of this film, just as he was the very soul of physicist Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything (2015). Starting as a playful game between two creative aesthetes, Einer incrementally explores coming out as a woman in a society not ready to even name people like him. At times melodramatic, the film is like watching a newborn chick push its way through the shell of an egg: one faint crack becomes several and suddenly a new life form emerges, bewildered by the public gaze and nowhere to hide.

The cinematography is lush and painterly. Several scenes incorporate original Wegener portraits and landscapes to create a living art gallery where Einar metaphorically paints himself into herself as Lili, the camera dwelling on feminine rituals that show the transformational power of cosmetic and fashion adornments. Some of the multi-depth close-up shots are themselves masterpieces that frame original paintings with their live subject in sets that resemble an artist’s canvas. As Lili experiences the sexual advances of males, she yearns for a cure for the “sickness” of wrong genitalia. It’s a sensitive portrayal of a complex issue for many who, like Lili, were prepared to risk their lives with pre-modern surgery to be who they wanted to be. Not all viewers will want to share that journey, but those who respect it will have much to admire in this film.

4 half stars

Director: Tom Hooper

Stars: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander