Having enjoyed mainstream success with such marvels as The King’s Speech (2010) and Les Misérables (2012), Tom Hooper’s latest cinematic venture is an irresistibly charming fabrication of the lives led by painters Lili Elbe (Eddie Redmayne) – a pioneering figure in the LGBTQ+ community for being one of the first recipients of gender reassignment surgery – and Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander).
Stylistically, The Danish Girl is distinctively the work of Tom Hooper; a dream to watch with beautiful shots of landscapes and architecture, depicting the literal views that inspire Lili’s art throughout the film. However, the beauty exemplified here is complimented by the love story encapsulated within it.
As publicity material would suggest, Redmayne and Vikander are endearing to watch as a married couple in a deeply romantic relationship. The concoction of passion, love and friendship forces you to immediately invest yourself. However, as the film progresses – as Lili comes to terms with the gendering of her body and soul being mismatched – the relationship suffers complications, becoming an emotional, heart-breaking affair for those involved, and those watching.
Like the majority of mainstream LGBTQ+ films, The Danish Girl uses a love story to appease a more general audience. However, the film does provide various moments in which the main focus is solely on Lili, the identification of her gender, and her ultimate transition. Though these scenes are powerful, some become problematic, as is the case for most mainstream LGBTQ+ films.
Obviously the film is about a transgender woman, yet it struggles to initially identify this. Instead, Lili is perceived to be a transvestite. This continues throughout the film until midway through, in which one particular scene shows Lili admiring a feminine garment. From this point onwards, she is clearly shown to be transgender yet it complicates the representation, suggesting that transvestitism and transsexuality are the same thing. The scene itself cuts fetishised shots of Lili rubbing her hands against the material that the garment is made of, linking her admiration with her sexuality, with shots of her face that show an emotional revelation, linking her admiration with the gender that she feels most comfortable identifying with.
Unfortunately, the problems don’t stop there. Lili often refers to herself and Einar – the male body that she was born into – as two separate entities. Though this could be considered to be metaphorical, it becomes problematic as it suggests a correlation between being transgender and being schizophrenic. With this, the representation becomes less empowering and more Norman Bates.
As an LGBTQ+ film, The Danish Girl would have been better suited as the product of an indie filmmaker. However, as a mainstream period romantic drama, the film is a compelling experience that has been beautifully crafted. Though it does not run free from the expected clichés, Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander perform them quite perfectly.
What did you think of The Danish Girl?
Comment with your thoughts.
– Daniel Sheppard