Every year, I like to watch as many of the Oscar nominated films as possible. This year, I was lucky enough to have seen 10 of the nominated films before nominations came out. But since there are 57 total nominated films -many of which are still in theaters – I knew I had some work to do. First step: checking my local theater times and seeing what was available. The boy and I had originally planned to see a movie together a few weeks ago, but he had to back out at the last minute for work. Luckily we hadn’t bought tickets yet, so I checked what else was playing and found that “The Danish Girl” would start soon after our original choice, and it wasn’t one he would be likely to want to see anyways.
As a note, there are some minor spoilers below the picture of Lili. Nothing you wouldn’t know from having read any other review. Though if you’re interested in going straight to the trailer and my final review…skip to the bottom.
“The Danish Girl” tells the story of Einar and Gerda Wegener – married artists living in Copenhagen in the late 20s. Einar is lauded for his modern style of landscape, but Gerda is having problems getting real attention for her work. She’s stuck painting portraits, and it’s not what her agent wants. When Einar has to step and sit as model when a subject is late to arrive, his eyes are opened to how much he loves being a woman – even if it’s only pretend for now. He is reclusive, and hesitant to go out in company, but when Gerda convinces him to adopt a female persona – Lili – he’s suddenly able to participate more fully in society. Gerda also draws a lot of inspiration from Lili, and when she paints Lili, the critics hail Gerda’s work, and she sells out, and is invited to go to Paris. At the same time, Einar is starting to feel more like Lili than Einar, and when they go to Paris…he becomes a she in her heart, only really feeling like herself when she can be Lili.
The transformation that Eddie Redmayne makes from Einar to Lili is amazing – physically, yes, he’s very pretty as a woman, but the emotional and psychological transformation is visible as well, which is what makes this a special performance. Einar who had been so reluctant and shy beforehand becomes more effervescent – more capable of handling the world into which she is forced. And the decision towards the end of the film to undergo surgery to remove her male parts and create female ones feels right. It’s such a hard decision to think that she made back in the late 20s/early 30s, especially when it wasn’t as acceptable as it is today (and even today it’s looked at oddly by those who are afraid or opposed). Towards the end, Lili says “I was always a woman – the doctor was just curing me of the sickness that was my disguise”, and I just feel it. Yes – it’s a hard decision, and it’s not for everyone. If you don’t feel it…it’s not for you. But this idea of feeling like you were made WRONG – it’s just heartbreaking.
Also heartbreaking is the amazing performance by Alicia Vikander (remember her from “Ex Machina“?) as wife Gerda. She is the one who initially encouraged Einar to take on Lili as a way to deal with the world. When Gerda loses her husband so that Lili can exist…and also so that her own artistic merits can be more fully appreciated by the public, you feel for her. Her struggle is not the same as Lili’s, but she too is shedding a previous identity – that of lover and wife to Einar -and becomes friend and confidante of Lili, a role she never expected to fill, but one that she believes she needs to do. The choices we see her make regarding her burgeoning success are also difficult to watch – mostly because who among us has had an easy road to acclaim without having to make any difficult decisions? Gerda’s are wrenching because they echo the 21st century choice that many women have to make – you must sacrifice either career or personal life in order to succeed at the other. Gerda chooses her career because it allows for Lili to succeed in her personal life at the same time.
I thought it was amazing. It can be a tear-jerker, so if you’re the kind of person who cries at tales of personal struggle…bring some tissues. The costumes are also beautiful, and with two standout performances, it’s definitely worth your time.
Who else has seen it? Did you like Lili better with red hair, or the natural brunette that shows up later? What did you think of Gerda’s paintings? Of her choices regarding Hans?
More Information: “The Danish Girl”, written by Lucinda Coxon, directed by Tom Hooper. In theaters.
Nominations: Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design.