The Danish Girl Is An Old Fashioned “Weepie”
“The Danish Girl” is one of those films that I wanted to see long before it came out, because the true life story of one of the first transgender women is so improbable.
Directed by Tom Hooper and starring Alicia Vikander and Eddie Redmayne , the visually stunning film full of 1920s fashion and lusciously lovely fabrics tells a fictionalized version of the story of of transgender pioneer Lili Elbe (born Einar Mogens Wegner) .
The film starts in 1926 Copenhagen, where Einar is a successful landscape painter happily living in a spacious apartment/ studio with his artist wife, Gerda trying very hard to get her pregnant despite lack of success.
When Gerda needs a fill-in live model to finish some details of a portrait, Einar is convinced to don silk stockings and dainty shoes to help out his wife. That brief moment in women’s garb opens up a whole new world of possibilities for him.
At the start of the film, Einer is just wearing his wife’s underthings. Soon she is buying him silk stockings and dressing him to go to a fancy party as his alter ego Lili, where, as expected, complications ensue. His wife Gerda also likes painting Lili in the fashions of the day and her paintings are a great success.
It turns out that Einar is much more comfortable as Lili and begins spending more and more time as her.
Doctors are tried, with results that vary from primitive radiation treatments (eek!) to mis-diagnoses of schizophrenia.
The film moves the couple moves to the freewheeling Paris of the jazz age 20s, leaving provincial Copenhagen behind.
Eventually, Lili leaves much of his former life as painter Einar behind, before finding a doctor willing to help her.
As an old-fashioned weepie with lots of emotion, the film does a great job. Eddie Redmayne does an amazing job as the painter who emerges from one gender to another and Alicia Vikander does a lovely job as the wife who tries to stick by her man, even as he becomes her woman. The film has gathered a lot of nominations and awards.
The sets are lush and lovely, the costumes are divine. Despite what some may see as challenging material, in many ways “The Danish Girl” is a traditional Hollywood film, with an emphasis on art and surfaces and nuances. The production design is outstanding.
After watching the film, I came home and did a lot of reading about the true story behind the movie. The movie has some of the truth of the story, but not all of it. I also read a smattering of not-so-happy takes on the film from the trans community.
While “The Danish Girl” is imperfect, it has made me motivated to read the english translations of the original diaries that Lili wrote as she was transitioning, published as Man into Woman.
Considering that this week marked one of the first (perhaps) successful uterus transplants in the U.S. (it was a failed uterus transplant that ultimately killed the real Lili Elbe) I really hope that she’d be happy to have a version of her story told on film, told at a time when the transgender movement is making great strides towards acceptance in America.