The Danish Girl - Transgender Issues in the 1920s

Matthew Parkinson | 10 Jan 2016 12:00
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Directed by Tom Hooper. Produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Anne Harrison, Tom Hooper, Gail Mutrux, and Linda Reisman. Written by Lucinda Coxon. Release date: November 27, 2015 (limited); December 25, 2015 (expansion).

The Danish Girl has been on a lot of "most anticipated" lists for a while for a variety of reasons. Its director, Tom Hooper, has had his last two films win Academy Awards. Eddie Redmayne, the lead actor, won the Best Actor Oscar just last year. Alicia Vikander is having a breakout year. And the subject matter - that of one of the first people in the world to have sex reassignment surgery - is intriguing. The Danish Girl certainly fits into the "Oscar bait" category, although I'd like to point out that, as formulaic as so-called "Oscar bait" movies are, they're still typically pretty good.

The film tells the story of Einar Wegener (Redmayne) and his wife, Gerda (Vikander). Both are painters - Gerda does portraits while Einar works primarily on landscapes. One day, Einar is asked by his wife to stand in for a female model. Embarrassed at first, Einar eventually embraces this, starts dressing up more frequently as "Lili," and eventually progresses to the point where he comes to the conclusion that he is, in fact, she - at least internally. Biologically the body is still male. You can imagine the issues that causes for people today; now think about what it'd be like in the 1920s.

The Danish Girl CineMarter #1

Part of the problem I have with The Danish Girl is how, for the most part, it lacks conflict, particularly when it comes to how everyone views Lili/Einar. You expect more shocks, I guess, from anyone who learns about this and, for the most part, they're absent. People are either supportive or ambivalent. The only real outrage comes from many of the doctors, who are almost cartoonish against Lili existing. But the average citizen? No such reaction.

You might, for instance, expect the relationship between Lili and Gerda to be more complicated after Lili - for lack of a better word - emerges, and while there's a little bit of fighting, Gerda is more than understanding. The film lacks any large-scale conflict, and that makes it boring. Lili is sympathetic, but since the movie is, in part, based on a true story, you know how it works out. She doesn't even encounter a lot of resistance when it comes to getting the sex reassignment surgery.

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