Tom Hooper achieves raw cinematic emotion through his adaption of the novel ‘The Danish Girl’ by David Ebershoff. Although the film is based on a fictional story, it still carries a weight to it that is both realistic and expressive. The Danish Girl is a pseudo biographical drama based on the life of two characters that have a failed relationship due to one of them being transgender. The film is based in 1920’s Copenhagen, a time that was not accepting of the ‘other’ in society. The film is based before the war, when people were comfortable with society normalcy. The film explores the journey that Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne) takes of self-discovery and wholeness. Although the film is centred on Einar, it also recounts the impact to his wife Gerda Wegener (Alica Vikander). The film is as much about transgender as it is about relationship struggles.
The main themes surrounding the film are freedom and sensuality. This is accomplished by the use of art, more specifically painting. Both characters are artists, this is how they express and reveal themselves to each other. It also works as a cinematic device to show the shift in power between the characters relationship. Einar is a landscape painter who is the success out of the two; Gerda is yet to get her break in her career as a portrait artist. The scene where Gerda asks to paint a portrait of Einar temporarily as a ballerina is when the truth is released in him and he is set free. Holding up the hose, wearing the shoes, feeling the silk of the dress sets free a part of Einar that has been kept hidden from even himself. Lilie is born in this moment of pleasure, Einar is captivated by the secret female pleasure of the feathery hose tickling his skin and the satin dress poised around his body, he is allowed a moment to believe, a moment to feel and a moment to be free.
In this moment Lilie is set free, free to take control for Einar. After this highly suggestive and expressive scene, Einar cannot fight Lilie. His paintings are harder to perfect and his need to be uninhibited takes hold. Through the aid of his wife Gerda, they create Lilie, with the work of make-up, dress, wig and mannerisms they hoax their acquaintances into truly believing Lilie is real. Gerda unintentionally releases the true flaw in their marriage. As Lilie/Einar is no longer himself, he is Lilie, she positions her hands, she tilts her head, she speaks as Lilie. Einar disappears as though he was simply a mistake finally being corrected. In this place Lilie is able to meet and be accepted for once by a man. However this moment peals away when Gerda catches this act of acceptance and is shocked. She wishes to not see ‘Lilie’ again.
However, the truth can not be wished away, Einar becomes less present in the film, he paints less, feeling Einar disappearing, too enthralled with his true person, Lilie. Lilie comes out when Einar explores the limitations of his male body, in a truly painful scene when Einar undresses in front of a mirror, naked, bare, and uncomfortable in his own skin. He poses and rearranges him self as how a women appears, thinking that if he does this perhaps he will be able to achieve his true feminine self. Einar feels things that are truly breath-taking and beautiful and it is not in his own skin, it is in Lilie’s.
After this scene Einar fades away like a breath of air, he can no longer hide his true self and seeks help. Gerda comes to terms with this and just wishes him to be well and happy again, her old husband. However, the doctors and their treatment only seem to worsen the matter as they believe that his condition is hormonal, when this fails they believe it is a matter of his state of mind and declare him insane. However, Gerda does not believe this, she fights for her husband and for Lilie time and time again, even though in saving one she dooms the other. As the narrative progresses Lilie is fully formed and ready to live her life as a transgender, even though the term would not have yet existed. Lilie and Gerda come to a mutual symbiosis, but still Lilie is not happy with her form; she does not feel at one with herself. She undergoes the next stage and becomes the first male to female sex reassignment surgery to take place.
Her eagerness to correct a mistake at birth causes complications and she catches an infection. However, Gerda is there for her through it all, allowing Lilie one moment in the world as a true women, a moment in the sun where Lilie is finally at one with herself. This scene is truly emotional as Lilie finally achieves her true identity and it is taken from her. Although it could also be seen as blissful, as Lilie dies in her rightful form, able to be eternally a women.
I believe this film achieves a painful cinematic pleasure, something so bitter sweet and powerful that it maybe able to change the views of transgender for society. Feeling something so powerful had the ability to make a whole audience breakdown into tears. This film helps to capture a missing element in the notion of transgender, helping to make people better understand the struggle and process. Tom Hooper has captured the views and journey of a hugely controversial matter, though it is set in the 1920’s very little has changed, the surgery is possible but peoples state of minds are still not as open, which is a sad notion.