‘The Danish Girl’ Review

Testing transitions in gender and love

SPOILER ALERT: This article contains information about the film that will reveal plot development and character detail.

You may wish to bypass reading it for now unless this presents no issue to you.

Love wins.

It’s the triumphant call that so many gays and lesbians have cried out since the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

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It’s also the message we get from “The Danish Girl,” a superbly filmed love story based on the lives of Einar and Gerda Wegener and the woman who would dare come between them.

Einar (Eddie Redmayne) is an established landscape artist in Denmark in the 1920s, while wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander) is struggling to find her own niche as a portrait artist.

When Gerda asks Einar to pose for her as a ballerina at the beginning of the film, we begin to realize that the next 90 minutes is going to be more than just a story about painters…way more.

Einar slips on the stockings and ballet slippers, close shots of his hands communicating the thrills he feels as he caresses the silks before setting into a pose.

In a later scene, as husband and wife undress for bed, Gerda peels back Einar’s shirt to reveal her night slip underneath. For as anxious as Einar is about Gerda’s reaction, Gerda is intrigued.

Einar later dresses as Lili Elbe for a formal gala, with Gerda introducing Lili to partygoers as Einar’s cousin (to explain the uncanny resemblance).

Cross-dressing fun turns serious business when a young man at the party kisses a reluctant Lili. Gerda, who catches a passing glimpse of the kiss, decides that it’s time to stop playing games, say goodbye to Lili and get back to the business of being husband and wife.

For Einar, however, it’s not so easy to let go of Lili.

In a beautifully executed scene, Einar sneaks off to a peep show and pays money to watch a young woman enjoy her own naked body. Foregoing any sexual pleasure that the typical peep show-goer might get out of such a performance, Einar instead mirrors the woman as she caresses her face, arms, breasts and belly. We watch Einar gracefully curve his hands and arch his torso through the glass window reflecting the image of the woman off to the right as she leads the performance. The fantasy is shattered, however, when Einar’s hands finally slide to his crotch and he finds, much to his surprise and dismay, something down there that his female counterpart does not have.

“This is not my body,” Einar says in a later scene. “I have to let it go.”

This film couldn’t have come at a better time for the LGBT rights movement.

Eddie Redmayne transforms his character of Einar Wegener to Lili Elbe in “The Danish Girl.” Photo Credit: movie still by via Working Title Films/First Look Photography

Eddie Redmayne transforms his character of Einar Wegener to Lili Elbe in “The Danish Girl.”
Photo Credit: movie still by via
Working Title Films/First Look Photography

“The Danish Girl” is not so much about Einar’s groundbreaking journey as a transgender pioneer as it is about the eternal love that two human beings — regardless of gender — can have for one another.

Gerda is there for Lili through all of the “treatments” prescribed to rid a person of what was considered at the time to be anything from a chemical imbalance to full-fledged insanity.

She remains loyal to the man she married who can no longer perform his husbandly duties, even rejecting advances from other men.

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In a heartbreaking scene, Gerda begs Lili to allow her to see Einar one last time.

“I need to talk to my husband, and I need to hold my husband,” Gerda pleads with Lili. “Can you at least try?”

“I’m sorry,” Lili replies.

Only then does Gerda realize that her love for a fading Einar must now give way to a different kind of love for a rising Lili.

Redmayne, who won both a Golden Globe and an Oscar earlier this year for his performance as Steven Hawking in “The Theory of Everything,” was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture — Drama of Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe along with Vikander who was nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture — Drama in “The Danish Girl.” Neither won in their categories, however.

Oscar nominations were released on Jan. 15. Receiving nods were Redmayne for Best Actor in a Leading Role, Vikander for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Paco Delgado for Costume Design and Eve Stewart for Production Design. The awards will be given out on Feb. 28 during a live show.

Redmayne’s intensely intimate and sensitive performance recounts the stages that Einar must have struggled through in getting Lili outside of his own body and into the world. Redmayne’s physicality is remarkable, transitioning from a man corseted in dark three-piece suits with stiff and precise movement into a woman floating in brightly colored skirts and scarves with fluid hands and flirtatious eyes.

Vikander’s transition from Einar’s loving wife to Lili’s best friend for life is inspiring.

When working together, their performances stand as a testament to the unconditional love that two human beings can have for one another.

Stunning locations across Europe, period costuming and fine art and a Golden Globe-nominated original score add to this highly stylized story.

The film is produced by Artemis Productions, Pretty Pictures, ReVision Pictures, Working Title Films and is directed by Tom Hooper. It is currently playing at theatres across the Carolinas. Check local listings for showtime.

— Chris Tittel is an avid movie-goer, with a master’s degree in acting and several stage plays to his credit.

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