‘The Danish Girl” (2015) – In 2015, the transgender community is receiving positive attention and gaining more acceptance than ever before, and I imagine the recent judicial and social strides in gay rights helped pave the way. Long before 2015, in 1926 Copenhagen, Einar Wegener began a journey to rectify his identity, and in the process paved the way for transgender people as well. “The Danish Girl” tells Einar’s (Eddie Redmayne) story, but also includes his wife, Gerda (Alicia Vikander), and her remarkable understanding and support throughout his self-discovery.
Director Tom Hooper’s film is an intricate portrayal of this couple, and it successfully captures a revealing look at frank and open dialogue about an unknown subject during the early 20th Century. At first, Einar and Gerda seem like a typical, young married couple in love, and the honeymoon period does not appear to have an end in sight. They show much physical affection and provide emotional encouragement for one another in and out of their spacious urban flat, and they also both paint. As fate would have it, on one particular day, Gerda’s female model was not available, so she asks Einar to put on stockings, hold up a dress and act as a stand-in.
Little did they realize that something stirred in Einar, and he began appreciating women’s clothing, noticing women’s moments, wearing women’s undergarments, pretending to be a woman, and more. Of course, Einar’s breakthrough is more gradual than just described, and Hooper offers several revealing, but subtle, findings along the way. Redmayne gives a layered performance as a man of initial confusion, but also as a person of relief and gratitude. Initially, Vikander’s Gerda goes along with this “charade”, because she believes they are playing a harmless game, however, Einar’s feelings run much deeper. Writer Lucinda Coxon pens a sharp screenplay, and great examples of her efforts surface with the Wegeners’ conversations prior to Einar’s self-discovery.
For instance, very early in the picture, Gerda casually mentions in the bedroom, “I am your wife. I know everything.”
The audience knows that she actually does not.
In another scene, Gerda calls Einar pretty and he responds, “I was always pretty, but you never noticed.”
Although Redmayne carries the challenging role of an emotional and physical transformation, Vikander bears the responsibility of internalizing the massive changes to her marriage and her husband with whom she dearly loves. We can “see” her emotions swirl beneath the surface and also rise with tears, compassion and fear of loss. The Golden Globes recently nominated Redmayne and Vikander for Best Actor and Actress, respectively, but I would argue Vikander gives the stronger performance. Gerda – as mentioned earlier – provides remarkable support for Einar and shows extraordinary restraint, but in a broader sense, the overall movie works on a few levels.
First and foremost, it provides a poetic and sensitive love story, and one which is highly unique given the time period. With reference to the period, Hooper pays a great amount of attention to detail with costume design and cinematography. Scenes inside museums and fashionable parties in the 1920s in Copenhagen and Paris feel aristocratic and grand, and with Einar and Gerda living and breathing in this community, their current marital issue feels even more taboo and the need to be even more secretive. Most importantly, it offers a intricate look at the struggle of a transgender individual on a highly personal level.
The movie does not give answers why Einar feels this way, but it establishes that she just does.
Image credits: Focus Features, Trailer credits: Movieclips Trailers