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Issue No. 16 - Chaos

THE DANISH GIRL (2015) DIRECTED BY TOM HOOPER

THE DANISH GIRL (2015) DIRECTED BY TOM HOOPER

Photo above courtesy of Focus Features

Photo above courtesy of Focus Features

About ten years ago I was stunned to find out that a very heterosexual friend of many years - married and father of two grown children - was transitioning (the term was not even in common use at the time). Had I been asked who amongst my acquaintances could possibly be a candidate for this condition - he might have been the last person I would have come up with. In my efforts to fully grasp what must be going on inside this person that I thought I knew I read as much as I could to better understand how so much radical duality could be tolerated for so long. Then I read The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff and it made a huge impression on me. The book, a biography, tells a haunting story about a married man who becomes a woman and the first to have gender re-assignment surgery. This book, as well as Jan Morris’ biography helped me to understand the desperation which intensifies over time as the stress of keeping a part of oneself completely suppressed finally becomes unbearable.

The film opens in Copenhagen in the early 1920‘s where Einer Wegener (Eddie Redmayne) and his wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander) live and paint. They are young and very much in love. He is successful as an artist and taken more seriously than Gerda who paints portraits which are deemed uninspired. It is after she asks her husband to pose for her in the clothes of her female model, who has cancelled a sitting, that things start to shift. The first sitting is uneventful. But repeated sittings induce in Einer a dreaminess which begins to manifest an alter ego named Lili. And Lili is good for business. Gerda’s paintings of Lili are inspired with new life and passion. The new work, the Lili Series, brings accolades and success to Gerda as an artist.

THE DANISH GIRL (2015) DIRECTED BY TOM HOOPER
THE DANISH GIRL (2015) DIRECTED BY TOM HOOPER
Photo above courtesy of Focus Features

However, acknowledging and naming the presence of another persona inside Einer allows Lili to have a life of her own. Lili gradually goes from being released by Einer to taking control and making demands. She moves from the studio and borrowing Gerda’s lingerie to going out with full hair and makeup and being introduced as Einer’s cousin, going to parties and flirting with men. The more she is allowed out, the stronger she becomes and the more tormented Einer and Gerda become. To see Gerda beg Lili to let her have Einer back is truly heartbreaking.

Eddie Redmayne could not have been a more perfect choice. His innately androgenous looks lend themselves to the role and his ability to totally inhabit a character is now an established fact. Alicia Vikander, as Gerda, initially complicit in the charade, superbly registers a wide gamut of emotions from intense love and loyalty to confusion, denial, and acceptance as she watches the man she continues to love become a woman she does not know. It is gut-wrenching to see him grapple with Lili while Gerda can only watch as the other woman takes over and subsumes her husband. If Lili wins she will lose Einer.

THE DANISH GIRL (2015) DIRECTED BY TOM HOOPER
THE DANISH GIRL (2015) DIRECTED BY TOM HOOPER
Photo above courtesy of Focus Features

Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) has done it again. This is a gorgeous looking, beautifully-filmed period drama about a marriage and self-discovery which treats both of the principal characters equally and with understanding, empathy and acceptance, while avoiding any sensationalism or prurience. He is expert at wringing out believably emotional performances from his actors which totally hit the mark. I found it thoroughly engaging and superb on every level.

THE DANISH GIRL (2015) DIRECTED BY TOM HOOPER
THE DANISH GIRL (2015) DIRECTED BY TOM HOOPER
Photo above courtesy of Focus Features
Text By Belle McIntyre

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