The Danish Girl – Review

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With the rise in acceptance in LGBT issues, more and more movies are telling stories of people struggling and/or accepting their sexual and cultural desires.

In fact, the last decade is full of movies that tackles issues like lesbian and gay relationships, sexual reawakening through years of fighting it and simply the dynamics of the LGBT community.

It’s also led to wider audiences identifying with LGBT characters, like Harvey Milk in the film Milk and Ennis Del Ray and Jack Twist from Brokeback Mountain.

And with this wider acceptance and even more films dealing with the issues come films that span further into specific types of stories or themes.

And then, there’s the same theme…but with a twist! It’s a gay man who is a superhero. It’s a lesbian relationship with a family. It’s a lesbian family but it’s about a matriarch who died.

This is where you start to see less daring and more mainstream and accessible films. Pride is one from 2014, other LGBT focused films have passed and gone.

This is a good thing, really: it means that there is more acceptance than there was when Gus Van Sant and Kimberly Pierce were making fringe art house movies that downright shocked mainstream movie audiences.

But with that, there is a bad: you get more of the forgettable and passable films like The Danish Girl.

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The film is about Lili Elbe, first known as Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne), who is known as one of the first people to get gender reassignment surgery. The film goes from his first inkling of Lili appearing to the eventual transformation, while his wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander, in an Oscar winning performance) suffers and supports him through his journey.

The Danish Girl, an entirely fictionalized account of his transformation, goes through some tried-and-true, rote expressions of finding ones self and trying to identify with what you are.

That means lots of insinuation of Einar touching dresses, looking longly at the feminine body and an avert wanting to be pretty.

And, really, that’s what we really get when it comes to characterization of Einar. Sure, we get the tell tale signs of kissing boys and other signs of base homosexuality. But for a movie that is ostensibly about the first man to have this corrective surgery done, an inspiring landmark for transgender people, it seems to carry its point on the basest of levels. 

This kind of thing, way back in the 20’s, was incredibly taboo. Yet, the film washes that off as playful, at first, then goes through the usual stereotypes of supposed illness and insanity. 

The film, in essence, has no heft to go along with its theme. Such a tremendously risky and odd for its time move would stir up more than it did. Instead, we are to believe that the character in the movie was able to have a sort of relationship with another man without that man really knowing he was a man and that his behavior was pretty much accepted in 20’s Denmark.

Now, this is just me interjecting a thought of feigning education on the subject itself, but wouldn’t Einar, who was a renowned artist at the time, dressing up and turning into a woman would have caused some friction? Maybe some controversy?

OK, yes, there is one scene where he is ostracized and beaten up by two hecklers, but really? Is that really all?

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That’s not a demand of having the character given The Passion treatment, but it’s really hard to believe that this wasn’t a non-event or non-issue. Unless he was REALLY convincing as a woman.

The film doesn’t even explore anything involving his current relationship with his wife Gerda either. The film portrays them in the beginning as loving, sexually active and wanting a child. Then, aside from the loving part, drops the other two quickly as the main plot reeves up.

You mean to tell me there wasn’t any sexual frustration/confusion going with Gerda over all of this? That, maybe, his attraction to men and to be a woman didn’t spring up gradually?

The film does state that he’s had feelings like this before, but he goes zero to trans faster than any closeted person seen on film. There’s no soul searching or emotional depth to the character at all. It’s quite literally he likes pretty dresses, then he likes make-up, then he wants to be a woman.

It’s horridly disappointing that a movie with such a fascinating and interesting character would brush off what could be incredibly, attaching details opting just to make the main character a hanging portrait of so few colors.

The performances, however, are quite good. Alicia Vikander plays a good foil for Redmayne, giving at times a good performance to connect with. Yet, her performance is hamstrung by the lack of depth: it’s easy to see though she take on more capable characters.

Eddie Redmayne, however, is the performance of the movie. His mannerisms as both Eihan and Lili are excellent. He gives a great picture of both femininity and slight masculinity to give the character a believable feel. The fact that he pulls off Lili so well should be commended, without it feeling forced, awkward or contrived (even though the screenplay is).

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That’s what we are left with, sadly: great performances holding an otherwise forgettable movie. This movie’s subject matter deserves more delving, yet The Danish Girl‘s need to stay simple and at base level hurts its overall feel.

It’s not a bad movie; it’s actually decent. But it’s not what this character really deserves in the end. Which, honestly, makes it one disappointing movie.

The Wiz Says #67

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