vikander danish girl

There was a moment where I wasn’t me

 

A great artist has it within them to see the world from many perspectives. They bring their own unique voice, of course – but to be truly great, they need to be able to understand more than just their own id. They need to empathize with the rebel and the establishment; the wealthy and the downtrodden; the female and the male. Obviously, it is most difficult to empathize or give voice to that which one is not…but what if these understandings and expressions are in some of us somewhere? What might happen when they are let out?

THE DANISH GIRL begins by introducing us to Einar Weigener (Eddie Redmayne). Weigener is a young and successful painter in 1920’s Denmark who has quickly risen through the ranks to become one of the toasts of the artistic community. Back home though, things aren’t quite as rosy. Einar’s wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander) is struggling to find her own artistic vision, and the couple are having trouble conceiving a child. That said, there is love between them: deep, tender, wanting, and unending love.

One day, Gerda asks Einar to sit-in for a dancer who has been modeling for her, complete with heels and stockings. The modeling session shows her a side of Einar she hadn’t previously seen. Einar soon finds that he’s very much enticed by the feminine side of himself, and with Gerda’s encouragement, tries to let his femininity out by going out as “Lili” to a high-profile arts social.

The experiment leads to unexpected results. Einar soon realizes that he suddenly feels more “himself” than he ever has. He further realizes that nobody recognizes him as Lili, so a true transformation has taken place (as opposed to Einar just being “a cock in a frock”). Most of all though, when advanced upon by another guest at the party, both Einar and Gerda realize that Lili is more than just an expression of style or kink.

Lili is, in truth, a living breathing soul that has always been a part of Einar…whether he knew it or not.

Soon, Gerda is painting various portraits of Lili, and finds herself hailed as an artist of rare vision – one blessed enough to be working with a model of rare quality. In short order, Gerda’s career skyrockets, and she has her husband to thank. However, her husband is around with less and less frequency.

Einar feels most himself as Lili, and what that means for his life as an artist and his role as a husband soon becomes too big to be ignored.

 

Redmayne Danish Girl

On the surface, THE DANISH GIRL is about Lili – the mysterious model that begins as a part of Einar, but eventually sees that she is less a part of him than he is a part of her. The tale of Lili is the showier part of the story, and the one that is most auspicious. Redmayne’s performance doesn’t just bring into question sexual identity – but identity itself. If great art comes from deep within the soul, and the artist realizes the soul has been out-of-sorts, what then becomes of the art?

Below the surface though, THE DANISH GIRL in question is Gerda. This is a movie, after all, that begins with Alicia Vikander looking long and hard – direct to camera. Her expression is one of a woman on a quest: a search for answer and explanation. She spends the first half of the film seeking her place in the artistic community of Copenhagen, made all the more difficult by being married to the community’s golden boy. She spends the second half searching for her place within her very marriage. It’s a complicated quest since it allows her great professional reward, but brings about high personal misgivings.

Gerda treads a fine line of support and apprehension, one that adores capturing Lili’s every dip, angle, and line dressed in her splendid clothes, but also misses her husband and struggles at times with how out-of-sorts that leaves her.

It’s easy to get wrapped-up in the way much of THE DANISH GIRL is told in tight detail. Shot after shot goes by of fingers running sensually over fabric, or make-up being applied to the face. At one point, there is even a tightly cropped, lingering image of the male genitalia being…tucked.  The film captures the mundane details of transformation.   However, what’s more fascinating are the moments when the camera pulls back. Sometimes it just comes down to them walking in and out of the moment, but often it’s more than that. In scene after scene, we watch patiently from the far corner of the room as our heroes create their art, as they speak to one-another, or as they find themselves lost in thought. The rooms appear huge, the characters tiny.

In these moments, the people we are learning about seem dwarfed by their very lives. They are imposingly surrounded on all sides by question, inhibition, doubt, and expectation. Lily and Gerda alike. At first, such distance might translate as emotional aloofness, or even a fetish for the rooms at the expense of those who inhabit them. So, when one considers how small we all feel when we are most insecure, how unsure of themselves every artist feels at some stage of their lives, this visual cue is an underrated counterbalance to all of those splashier, fetishistic close-ups.

Stories like Lily’s are tremendously tricky to bring to light.

This story was told honourably and with the utmost care. True, there may be something missing in the cadence, or a piece of phrasing that doesn’t do justice to Lily’s psychological journey. Thing is, that missing piece might have more to say about us and the way we look back upon this story in the 21st century.  What we know to be true and what we see in the world around us is not what Lily would have known and would have seen. It’s easy for all of us to forget that. Likewise, some missing pieces might just be the cost of the story being written eighty years after it happened, and then retold and retold. A journey like Lili’s is deeply personal – the same way every artist’s works are deeply personal.

From the perspective of time and clarity, this telling of THE DANISH GIRL might seem inaccurate or possibly even offensive. However, short of being able to go back in time and point a camera at Lili herself, this interpretation is the best version of her story one can hope for…and considering its honour and care, that’s not such a bad thing at all.

 

Matineescore: ★ ★ ★ out of ★ ★ ★ ★
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