By Chloé Rowlands
Tom Hooper, visually and movingly, brings to life Eberschoff’s novel that tells the tale of a love story between two Danish artists, loosely inspired by a true story. Nominated for 4 Academy Awards, it is a poignantly realistic reflection the representation of the struggles ‘The Danish Girl’ Lili Elbe whom started her life as Einar Wegener, faced during her Transgender journey. The Theory of Everything’s Eddie Redmayne and recent Screen Actors Guild winner, Alicia Vikander, work beautifully together and tastefully touch on what is a highly sensitive and often disregarded subject, whilst emphasising the deep difficulty forced upon the couple when confronted with the obstacle.
The relationship between the two characters is presented as close in every aspect, shown through their shared love of art and painting and their genuine intimacy often highlighted throughout. Gerda’s strong attempt to understand Einar’s gradual turmoil, echoes that of a resilient partner of whom laughs in the face of the norm within society. The way in which she encourages Lili to experiment with female clothing, in what initially was seen as a ‘game’ between the married couple in effect is shown as the ultimate form of escapism for Einar, offering a slight sense of relief.
Gerda can arguably be seen as a trigger of Einar’s exposure as Lili, after using her husband as her muse and painting him as a female. After finding him dressing in her clothes in secrecy, the expected reaction would be shock; but because she is at first, unable to recognise the full seriousness and truth behind the literal masquerade, Gerda merely plays along with the idea of Lili being an alter ego.
Slowly but surely, we are introduced to obvious indicators of what was beginning to unravel in terms of Lili’s gender. It was almost as though her confidence grew once her secret was out to her partner, resulting in the previously repressed emotions having the ability to escape bit by bit. This incidentally has a knock on effect on Gerda, yet she still continued to show her support to Lili as a remarkably faithful friend; something that adds a selfless and heart-warming quality to Vikander’s character.
Although acceptance was evident in the distance, there were times in which we were given harrowing glimpses of Lili’s heightened struggle to come to terms with her gender and also her sexuality. When faced with male sexual attention, Lili is seen engaging in a kiss with a man yet then panics refusing to take any further action. This results in a rollercoaster of emotions for her again, and adds to the element of overall confusion the character is suffering with, providing the audience with an attempt to comprehend her situation. The way in which Lili is treated for being physically ‘ill’ with regards to her gender issues, is something that is difficult to digest especially due to the rise of awareness in relation to transgender women and men over the recent years, (Caitlyn Jenner being an iconic partaker) it is hard to imagine humans being branded in that manner. To label and treat someone as having something biologically wrong with them, can only result in more significant damage to the individual as they continue to question what they have been forced to perceive themselves as.
The fact that although crucial to the story, the complex love triangle plot between Gerda, Lili and art dealer Hans, as well as Vikander’s character’s emotions and reaction to her partner’s experience are devices that are not put in place to overpower the character of Lili and her story. This is hugely important in terms of providing light and a platform for her as a transgender symbol, making the film all the more personal as we are able to connect with her as a person/character.
The dramatic journey is eloquently portrayed through Redmayne himself, as he embodies the role as if he is truly the one undergoing the circumstance; both physically and emotionally. From his awkwardly uncomfortable body language and delicately expressed emotions, to his inquisitive experiments with makeup and his incline to hide his impulses; he has managed to mould these features into one, to create a truly remarkable performance. Together with ‘Ex Machina’ star Vikander’s doting and open minded qualities as Gerda, we are presented with an astounding outcome of a tale of what is in my opinion, a Transgender victory.
Chloé is a third year English student with an interest in films, the media and creative writing.