Directed By: Tom Hooper
Written By: David Ebershoff; Lucinda Coxon
Eddie Redmayne – Lili Elbe/ Einar Wegener
Alicia Vikander – Gerda Wegener
Matthias Schoenaerts – Hans Axgil
Ben Whishaw – Henrik
Amber Heard – Ulla
Sebastian Koch – Dr. Warnekros
Language: English Genre: Biographical Drama
The film opens with the hauntingly empty yet darkly green Danish landscape. A series of lonely yet similar trees mark the spot and later feature in varying moods in the paintings of Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne). His wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander) on the other hand, finds it astonishing that he can paint the same landscape over and over again. She prefers painting portraits. Whatever they choose however, is revelatory of how they see; either introspective or else the female gaze.
Painting is the central motif of the film. It is also a metaphor of creation and storytelling. Just like how two colours are mixed on a palette to create a new colour and how a dab of fresh paint can be fused into a painting – the story similarly unfolds, slowly, deftly, leading to that moment of poignant awareness that you have grasped what the narrative is about.
Einar poses for his wife in stockings, holding a dress against his body because her model failed to turn up. For Einar, it is a strange sensation to watch how the clothes feel so beautiful against his skin. What starts as just a momentary experience becomes more and more the centre of their marriage. He secretly wears his wife’s nightdress and while perturbed, she encourages his exploration of sexuality by taking on a dominant and supposedly masculine role in their lovemaking. The female Einar – Lili Elbe, who Gerda introduces as Einar’s cousin begins to step into the public space more often. Then the barriers separating the private space from the public space, begin to come crashing down.
The ebb and flow of the narrative – the growing consciousness and the crashing reality is accompanied by Alexandre Desplat’s music which lends it a stirring quality like breakers on a desolate yet verdant coast.
The film portrays a different idea of marriage and poses a hard question – can you love someone so much that you would be willing to aid them in their journey of self-awareness, even it if erases you?
Alicia Vikander gives a powerfully moving portrayal of a woman who supports her husband’s need to be a woman even though as she puts it she “needs her husband…and I need to hold my husband.” Eddie Redmayne as Einar/Lili is devastatingly vulnerable in his exploration of the psyche of a person who realises that they are not living their true self. The film may seem lengthy to some and probably melodramatic in its portrayal but it is still a powerful exploration of identity and sexuality.
Sexuality is a misunderstood concept even today, though the very real possibility of being forcibly locked up because you’re a threat does not exist anymore.
The Danish Girl portrays how people are quick to classify something as abnormal and then attempt to suppress it, even harshly if required. It brings out also, the fragility of our identities. How a certain kind of realisation can change how we perceive things and how we are perceived. For instance, Einar in the beginning, dressed as a man walking out, is not noticed, but a slightly feminised version of his attire and mannerisms leads him to be assaulted on the streets. But what has been acknowledged in the narrative is the role of people like Hans (Matthias Schoenaerts), Ulla (Amber Heard) and Henrik (Ben Whishaw) who are sympathetic of another’s exploration probably out of an understanding of their frailty.
The unsettling question is how far have we chosen our own identity and how far would we take that exploration?
Related text: Kathleen Winter – Annabel