The Danish Girl, 2015
Directed by Tom Hooper
Starring Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Amber Heard, Adrian Schiller, Ben Whishaw and Matthias Schoenaerts
A fictitious love story inspired by the lives of Danish artists Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener. Lili and Gerda’s marriage and work evolve as they navigate Lili’s groundbreaking journey as a transgender pioneer.
Let it be known that no one is tackling more metamorphosing roles, and challenging roles in general, than Eddie Redmayne (I can, and I will pretend that Jupiter Ascending never happened). From winning an Oscar to portraying Stephen Hawking with astounding meticulous little physical details (as someone who is handicapped, that was not an easy performance to act out authentically, but he did it) in The Theory of Everything to now taking on another real-life persona in transgender pioneer Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl, Redmayne isn’t backing down from incredibly difficult characters to convey.
Redmayne’s turn in The Danish Girl is admittedly powerful; there is a scene early on in the film where he is staring into a mirror admiring the beauty he sees in himself all dolled up and cross-dressing, where he eventually strips nude, and tucks away his penis between his legs. It’s the only barrier separating him from the gender he now feels he was meant to be born as. I realize as I write this, most of it just sounds completely ridiculous, but Redmayne is a master at eliciting emotion and investing you into the plight of his characters. It also helps that the actor already even has a feminine edge to his appearance, so that when he heads out and about donning women’s clothing and makeup, there is a measured balance between an unrecognizable face and the audience still knowing that what they are seeing is still Redmayne dazzling with charm.
Likewise, the performance from Alicia Vikander as his wife Gerda is equally captivating. She’s caught in this conflicted state of mind where she’s aware that by starting to paint these provocative artistic portraits of him dressed as a woman, she has re-awoken this feminine side that has always existed in his soul, and has been bottled up since his adolescent years . The resulting performance is one of constant confusion and indecisiveness; she wants to support him, but doing so means that the man she loves dies in spirit.
However, even with two absolutely engrossing lead performances, The Danish Girl is duller than watching someone buy cigarettes at 7-11 due to the overtly politically correct direction from known Oscar-bait filmmaker Tom Hooper. For a movie that takes place in 1920s England, where the idea of gender reassignment surgery is often frowned upon today, let alone back then, this movie does nothing to elicit the sensation of a tireless struggle. Sure, there are a few scenes of Einar/Lili going to see doctors that essentially just tell him he’s mentally ill, but it doesn’t stick as a punch in the gut to the viewer because it’s only a few minutes later before another character is professing their undying support.
If you’re going to make a film about a pioneer of an incredibly taboo lifestyle, the story has to throw that character through the ringer in terms of emotionally exhausting mental, and even sometimes physical, abuse. There’s a quick scene where some hooligans provoke Lili into a quick fight, but it is never brought up afterwards, rendering the whole moment inconsequential in the grander picture. Maybe the filmmakers thought going any further would *gasp* offend someone. The Danish Girl is a movie for people in this day and age that need everything spoon-fed to them safe and clean, without room to do anything daring or bold. Unfortunately, what that means is Tom Hooper has given us a film that’s hard to give a damn about, or sadly find inspirational,
No one can argue that The Danish Girl isn’t competently constructed; there’s a wonderful soundtrack full of moving musical cues that feel aligned with the time period, outstanding makeup effects and costume design that believably transforms Redmayne from man to woman, actors putting their all into making their respective characters feel real, and so many other little touches (such as all the fascinating paintings on display). The problem simply boils down to safe storytelling that gets boring real fast.
And then there’s the ending; holy shit on a stick, it’s the most melodramatic and over-exaggerated piece of pretentious filmmaking all year. The only thing the final scene of The Danish Girl accomplishes is unintentional sidesplitting laughter, followed by a deep sigh of relief that this two hour experience is finally over. If nothing else, it’s at least a visual marvel that will hold your attention.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder – An aficionado of film, wrestling, and gaming. Follow me on Twitter or friend me on Facebook