Eddie Redmayne’s performance as Einar Wegener, “The Danish Girl,” is revealing, heartbreaking and believable. And Alicia Vikander (“Ex Machina”), who plays his wife Gerda, may be bound for an Oscar with her sympathetic portrayal.
The film, which is based loosely on the real lives of the Einar and Gerda, is set in the late 1920s. Einar is a popular Copenhagen landscape artist, while Gerda is a painter who is less recognized. There is no jealousy in the marriage – indeed, the two are quite devoted.
Einar has suppressed his feminine side for many years. After an experience wearing women’s clothing motivates him to reveal more about his femininity, he takes on the identity of Lili Elbe. At first, he is Lili only in secret, but then he takes Lili into the real world, where she flirts, has crushes and experiences life as a woman.
Gerda supports both Einar and Lili, but she realizes that a great challenge lies before her. Meanwhile, Einar begins to see physicians, who don’t always understand that Einar, who refers to Lili in the third person, is a woman inside a man’s body.
The real-life Elbe was one of the first people to undergo gender-reassignment surgery. Because this was such a new idea, much of the movie focuses on the medical part of Einar’s life. One specialist believes that radiation treatments will be appropriate, while another diagnoses Einar with schizophrenia.
First and foremost, this is a love story. Redmayne actually glows with discovery and joy as he transitions into Lili. Vikander creates a character who always looks at Einar/Lili with love, even during the most difficult situations.
Director Tom Hooper (“Les Miserables” and “The King’s Speech”) gives us scenes with texture, lighting and colors that stir our senses while Einar transforms into Lili. It is a beautifully wrought character study, set to an enjoyable score composed by the Oscar-winning Alexandre Desplat, with great detail in its depiction of the locale and the era.
Redmayne, who earned an Academy Award for his performance as Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything,” turns in another memorable portrayal.
The question of the role that gender – physical, emotional or mental – and how it defines who we are is explored tastefully and intelligently.
If you’re interested in Einar and Gerda (I was riveted by this film and particularly by the lead characters), you might want to read more about the real-life couple. Their lives and personalities were far more complex than what is depicted here.
Still, this fictionalized version is poignant, memorable and well worth seeing.