Based on David Ebershoff’s novel, “The Danish Girl” is a compelling portrait of transgender life in the early twentieth century. A dramatization of the diaries of Einar Wegener, one of the first trans women to undergo sex reassignment surgery, we see the transgender world: first, as Einar and then later, as Lili.
“The Danish Girl” opens with Einar, a landscape artist (played by Eddie Redmayne, “The Theory of Everything”), who is married to Gerda (Alicia Verkander, “Ex Machina”), a painter of portraits. Both artists are supportive and sometimes resistant to each other’s career aspirations. In the beginning it is Einar who has more success in Copenhagen, and then later it is his wife, who becomes famous painting Lili. But the married couple has a passionate, bohemian lifestyle that suits both of them.
What begins one evening as a game—Einar dressing up in one of his wife’s gowns as cousin “Lili” for an artists’ ball—turns into the catalyst for his sexual transformation and discovery of who he truly is. Lili falls in love with Henrik (Ben Whishaw) and Gerda learns to fall in love again– with Lili. Both Danish girls care deeply for each other, and Gerda recognizes and appreciates Lili for who she is, in a wrenching and compassionate rebirth of love. In many ways it is Gerda’s ordeal, which is the heart and emotional pulse of “The Danish Girl”. She is the other Danish girl left to love first her husband as Einar Wegener, then as her best friend, Lili Elbe. Vikander is mesmerizing as Gerda (this year’s Academy Award winner for best actress,) struggling with the hurt, anguish, and confusion all registered simultaneously on her face as she stands by the love of her life.
This film tackles the life of a transgender individual with extraordinary dignity, respect, and complexity. The bravery to undergo harrowing experimental brain and sexual reassignment surgery, face brutal homophobic violence, and channel the confidence to accept who you are in spite of these affronts, will leave few viewers unmoved. How many of us would have the grace of Gerda in adapting our relationship in similar circumstances? In watching “The Danish Girl”, you may be surprised to learn more about gender identity and crisis than you expected.