The Danish Girl is the remarkable history of the first known transgender woman, the Danish Lili Elbe. Unfortunately, this story about a woman that inspirited many transgenders since the release of the book that was based on her diaries, Man into Woman, is poorly told in this movie from director Tom Hooper. While this is a very emotional story there is a shortcoming in trying to evoke sympathy within the viewer; this is the result of a complex life story that is being told in a tedious and hurried along manner.
As aforementioned, the movie is based upon the life of Einar Wegener’s transformation into Lili Elbe; this role is played by Eddie Redmayne, whom we most notably know from his Oscar role in The Theory of Everything. We jump into Einar’s life when he is already married and a successful painter; with his wife (Alicia Vikander) he lives in Copenhagen, Denmark. His most successful series of paintings is that of landscapes from his birthplace in rural Denmark. Soon we learn that this is where his struggle with his identity started. Yet, the strife to find his identity is barely touched upon, even though the whole movie is about this inner conflict it all happens so fast that it seems as if there truly never was a question about what was going inside Einar’s head. However, why then did it take a painting session with his wife to start realizing this.
Lili’s true story of transformation evolves over a period of several decades; seemingly,the movie crammed all this up in less than a decade, as a result leaving out several events that could have brought some depth to the character and would most likely have made her more likable. In all honesty, Lili now comes across as someone who keeps pushing until she gets her way. I can now hear some of you thinking “isn’t that very womanlike?” This actually is exactly the issue at hand, throughout the movie we see Lili attempting to imitate women; being a woman doesn’t seem to come as natural as one would think, considering that Einar had felt he was a woman trapped in a man’s body all along. As such, it is not the convincing memoir it probably is in the book(s).
The Danish Girl has received four nominations for the Oscars. This includes a nomination for both main characters: Eddie Redmayne as Einar/Lili in the category Best Actor and Alicia Vikander as his wife Gerda in the category Best Actress in a Supporting Role. Of those two it is the latter whom, in my opinion, deserves to win the most. While Redmayne does an admirable job in portraying such a complex character, it is Vikander who wins over the audience by playing a woman who is torn by her husband’ s identity issues. Her performance generates sympathy, which is especially odd seeing as on paper it is Einar who is going through much more hardship. Yet, Redmayne failed to convince; his portrayal of Lili is like a leaf in the wind. While there is a certain gradual change, it is rather unpredictable to the point where it is annoying. The first glimpses we get of Lili are fidgety and insecure and somehow she never really gets passed this. Whether this was intentional or not it is unpleasant to look at. Granted, it musn’t have been an easy task to fulfill for Redmayne, either way I fear he won’t be going home with that Oscar.
Hooper manages to make an interesting life story seem shallow. By displaying the protagonist in this manner it almost makes transgenders look bad, which couldn’t have been Hooper’s, nor screenplay writer Lucinda Coxon’s goal. The pace at which the transformation is going seems rather excessive based upon the lack of insight we get into the struggles in Einar’s head. Based on The Danish Girl it is hard to believe that Lili Elbe has been such an inspiration to transgenders all over the world.