Eddie Redmayne has been on quite the tear lately. After his Oscar win with the Theory of Everything, I was surprised to see him follow it up with another strong performance. Well, if we ignore Jupiter Ascending…because he had this really weird voice the entire time….not sure why anyone thought that was a good idea. Coupled with the up and coming Alicia Vikander, Danish Girl hits some unfamiliar threads in a pretty interesting way.
Let’s clear a few things out of the way….
This is a fictional movie based on a book (of the same name) that fictionalized the real lives of Lile Elbe and Gerda Wegener. I’ve seen a few criticisms lobbed at the movie and I think they would be valid if the movie was trying to be authentic. It’s not, it changes some key dynamics of Lili and Gerda’s relationship so trying to compare the two falls apart quickly. You could make an argument that maybe the marketing is a bit deceiving so I’ll grant you that. For this review, I will only be judging the film on it’s quality just like I would anything else.
At the start, Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne) is an established painter in Denmark; his wife, Gerda (Alicia Vikander), is still trying to make her mark. We see how well they interact with one another and how they handle being in two different levels of success. Einar lines up a meeting with his exhibitor for Gerda that doesn’t pan out. Gerda desires to have children despite their lack of success so far. So there’s a bit of tension early on, but they work them out fairly well.
Soon after, Einar wears ladies stockings and heels so Gerda can finish one of her paintings. Gerda’s model was a no show and Einar desires to help his wife whenever possible. But wearing women’s clothes, at least to him, was not what set off his desire. Key details later in the film help us see that this was something he had wrestled with for a far longer time. After this moment, Einar keeps pressing and trying to figure who he is. The transformation begins to show as Einar goes out in public completely dressed as a woman, having practiced mannerisms and walking in heels in order to fit the bill. It starts off a bit clunky as Tom Hooper spent a bit too long on Einar’s first scene with the stockings. Awkwardness may have been what Hooper was going for, but it doesn’t work well. The best moment is when Gerda gets upset with Einar after finding him kissing another man. There was a joyfulness between the two of them that gets shattered in this moment. Until this scene, it was just a game between Gerda and Einar. After this point, Gerda is woken up and realizes there’s something going on with her husband.
Redmayne does an excellent job showing us his transformation and the deterioration of his marriage. His conversations with Vikander are excellent and do a better job of telling us where their relationship is than forcing us to figure it out. The moments of doubt, confusion, and acceptance are shown well on his face. Vikander reciprocates as very understanding, angry, loving, and frustrated at various points in the film. She conveys what the audience expects from a spouse in that position. Through her, we get to express our own frustrations at what can initially seems like selfish decisions by Lili (the name Einar changes to). I think without a strong performance from Vikander, Redmayne’s would have been wasted. Their conversations help us process what Lili is going through. This would have been a remarkably different and lacking experience.
The subject matter will be controversial for some, but I’ve wasn’t offended by it or turned off. They handled a topic that is rife with issues for the audience and let’s you make up your own mind. Did they tell a great story? Yes, Tom Hooper did a great job getting strong performances from Redmayne and Vikander. At the end of the day, that’s what I’m looking for in good cinema. It starts off a bit slow, but finds a groove that works well for the rest of the film.
The Danish Girl: 8 out of 10