Movie Reviews Sioux City Now - Movie Reviews - The Danish Girl

Published on January 14th, 2016 | by Leslie Erickson


‘The Danish Girl’ tells powerful story of unconditional love

“I’ve only liked a handful of people in my life, and you’ve been two of them.”

– Hans Axgil

The Danish Girl

Director: Tom Hooper

Writer:  Lucinda Coxon (screenplay); David Ebershoff (novel)

Stars: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ben Whishaw

IMDB Link:


Listen to Leslie’s review on KWIT, or scroll down to keep reading.

Cultures progress more fully when groups previously ignored, ridiculed, or marginalized become visible, recognized, and included. With transgender actor Laverne Cox’s nomination for an Emmy a few years ago for her wonderful work in Orange is the New Black, the undeniable popularity of the television series Transparent whose protagonist is a transgender character, and newly-enacted social and legal action affecting LBGT groups, the struggles of transgender people have been at the forefront of recent cultural discussions and movement. It seems fitting and timely that the film The Danish Girl was not only made, but is also in contention for major awards this year.

Set in 1926, the film fictionalizes the husband and wife Danish painters, Lili Elbe (Einar Wegener) and Gerda Wegener, and tells their story as Einar transforms into Lili, the woman she has always been. Determined to have the physical body that matches her identity, Lili undergoes one of the first attempts of male-to-female sex reassignment surgery. The story, while of course centering around the struggles of a person who is trapped in a body with which she cannot identify, is about more than that. It’s about unconditional love and understanding.

Eddie Redmayne is perfectly cast in the role of Einar/Lili. Risking being typecast into roles in which a character requires an unconventional, unconditional love from his partner, Redmayne plays just such a character for the second time in two years. His role last year as Stephen Hawking in Theory of Everything, for which he won the Oscar, also demanded sacrificial love from his spouse. There is the inevitable speculation that Redmayne will pull off the rare repeat win, and his performance is that good, but this film doesn’t quite hit the full beauty of last year’s film, even if his performance is arguably as demanding.

That said, Redmayne’s transformation from Einar to Lili is remarkable. When he makes the transformation, ironically initiated by donning women’s stockings at the request of his painter wife, he conveys a hesitancy and awkwardness as a woman; after the emergence of Lili, that same hesitancy and awkwardness is as convincing when he tries to revert back to Einar. Director Tom Hooper lingers over this transformation, taking long, leisurely closeups of Lili as she discovers her emerging femininity. Although these shots are aesthetically stunning, his direction is a little indulgent at times as the film lingers a little too long in places and borders on the sentimental in its concluding scenes. However, Redmayne’s performance keeps us engaged and elicits real emotion for much of the film.

Gerda, played by Alicia Vikander, struggles as she moves from playful participation to shock, to accepting the inevitable, and finally to loving support. She is a brilliant but unfocused painter who only finds her genius when she begins painting her husband as a woman, and Vikander plays her as a strong, independent woman who struggles between wanting a traditional husband, pursuing her muse at the expense of that tradition, and supporting the person she loves, regardless of that person’s needs. She does all this well, and we never doubt Gerda’s autonomy or the character’s importance to the story.

Although there are a few scenes exploring the characters’ outside romantic interests – Ben Whishaw as Lili’s and Matthias Schoenaerts as Gerda’s – the story centers most fully around the couple’s struggles to deal with its changing dynamic and Lili’s struggles to understand and come to terms with her identity. There are a few nods to the naïve and sadistic treatment Lili suffers as she looks for answers, but the film doesn’t fully explore society’s perceptions and intolerance of transgendered or homosexual individuals.

Hooper misses an opportunity here to really use the film as that exploration; while the story does make an important statement of the early injustices and cruelties transgendered people suffered at the hands of the medical field and society, the film could have done more. However, Hooper’s forgoing of focus on the bigger issues and his emphasis on the individual struggles of his protagonist and the woman who loves him could hardly go wrong with Redmayne in the lead, and Vikander doesn’t disappoint either – their performances convincingly convey a love that is much deeper than simple romance, regardless of the pain and sacrifice embodied within it.

The Danish Girl starts playing at the Promenade on Friday, January 15th. Click here for showtimes.

Watch the official trailer below.



Listen to Leslie read her reviews: Movies with Leslie on KWIT.


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About the Author

Leslie Erickson is an avid cinephile and bibliophile living in Sioux City. From September through May, when not watching films or reading, she teaches literature and writing at Western Iowa Tech Community College. In the summer, she spends her time hiking and backpacking through the wilderness in one or another of the western states, occasionally taking breaks in air-conditioned theaters to catch a new release.

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