Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
The Danish Girl
Gender identity is at the core of our being, coloring our heart, our psyche and every aspect of life. It is basic and primal aspect of self, at once simple and complex. Gender is so elementary in human life that most of us may take the organic decision of whether we happen to be male or female for granted. At times though, our naturally given physical bodies fail to match with the mind and the spirit.
Director Tom Hooper (The King's Speech) delivers a sensitive biopic about the life of Lili Elbe, the first person to undergo sexual reassignment surgery from a man to a woman in 1926. At the start of the film, we observe Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne) hard at work painting. He is calm and focused, possessing a diligent concentration in his landscapes.
Einar lives in his painting.
Gerda (Alicia Vikander) his wife is a portrait painter. Since she is creatively blocked, Gerda asks Einer to pose as a woman and he puts on stockings and ballet shoes. Gerda wants more realism and the couple conjures an alternate persona for Einar, a lady named Lili. Einar inhabits Lili's emotional character and begins to relax into this new ego.
The following morning Einar realizes that he prefers the emotional body and shape of the female Lili, rather than the jittery and ill-fitting Einar. Gerda thinks that her husband is pre-occupied with a passing phase.
After a harmonic night in bed with Einar wearing Gerda's negligee, Einar becomes pale and solitary. He takes to the night in a dark hat and meets the enimatic Henrik (Ben Wishaw.) Seen in this way, Einar is a film noir anti-hero, one with the shadows with a heart filled by empty space.
Curiously, when Einar stops painting, Gerda starts. She uses Lili as a model and becomes inspired.
Eddie Redmayne is excellent in this role. More than anything else, the actor shows how it actually feels to be pained and uncomfortable in a mismatched body.
Alicia Vikander is terrifically on key as well with a compassion and understanding as well as a feline ferociousness. Her Gerda is shut off from intimacies, yet conversely her creativity ignites and she begins a dialogue with the Lili that she paints again and again. Underneath Gerda's care and worry there is a lust to be a sparkling slyph with Einar by her side, a living creature of Art Deco.
The imagery of the film complements the realism of its characters. Rows and rows of trees stand in contrast along a slate gray sky. The effect is one of Chinese calligraphy. In another shot, a clutter of uniformly yellow houses with pitched roofs hang claustrophobically on the horizon as Lili strides past: a thin reed of nature born anew. The environs of Denmark may lean towards conformity, but its people have the potential to create a different story.
"The Danish Girl" is very much one of a kind, in that it is vivid, immersing and psychologically thorough. We witness some anguish and medical barbarism, but there is grace even in its grit when showing these outdated medical practices.
Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener at rock bottom were a decadent and creative couple. Passionate and restless with theatrical energy, the two became mirrors of one another, through painting and life. Lili pushed herself to become her one true creation, while Gerda is perpetually transfixed by the double reflections of her love: one of them passive, the other, daring, free and intimidating. Both of these personas fuse together within the courageous birth of Lili and Gerda's own painting.
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