Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Between Two Lives: Art, gender & identity for “The Danish Girl.”

Screenshot 2015-12-27 12.34.23“I won’t disappear into the bog. The bog is in me, silly.”

So says painter Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne) to his wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander), trying to assure her of his presence as he finishes up painting a landscape he’s held onto since his childhood.

Director Tom Hooper’s “The Danish Girl” brilliantly unfolds around this happy couple in 1926 Copenhagen as they throw themselves into their art. But Einar holds a secret: He has something else within him, something which, in fact, makes him a her.

Lili. That is the name that resonates more distinctly with Einar and the embodiment that goes with the name. When Gerda asks Einar to pose for a painting in place of their friend, Ulla (Amber Heard), wearing stockings and slippers, something sparks and brings Lili back to the surface.

Though Gerda plays along at first, mistaking her husband’s bashful pleasure for a running joke, Lili comes out to play bit by bit, first by trying on Gerda’s clothing, then makeup, and, finally, by appearing at the Artist’s Ball with Gerda, charading as Einar’s cousin. By the time that Gerda finally understands what is happening, Lili has tasted a glimpse of what her life could be like as a woman and is not ready to go back to being Einar.

The story (a loose depiction of the life of Lili Elbe, the first transgender woman to undergo sex reassignment surgery, as novelized by David Ebershoff) follows her journey as Lili finds herself and Gerda’s journey as she struggles to cope with her husband’s changes. It is a fascinating story, though it deals with transgender issues in a bit of a precarious way—sometimes Lili’s desires are referred to as if they are some form of multiple personality disorder or possession, and sometimes they’re written off as insanity.

While the film makes it clear that it is 1920s society that labels her in such ways, it is a bit disconcerting when Lili herself seems to conform to these labels—she often speaks of herself as “she” instead of “I”, etc. But, beyond this awkward approach, which seems to reflect the amateurishness of the characters rather than the writer, the film at least reveals the surface of the transgender struggle, almost as an introduction to the topic. One can assume that, once this introduction is made, it is up to the viewer to delve further into the topic.

Redmayne does a tremendous job conveying Lili’s actions, though he focuses on her struggle in a very external way, causing Lili at times to feel almost like a secondary character. Oddly enough, Vikander’s role in this film will be the one to earn the audience’s affections, as her journey essentially encapsulates the average moviegoer’s perspective—and her performance is dynamite.

Together, the two paint a vivid picture of Lili and Gerda’s relationship as they navigate through unknown territory, and they are supported by such roles from Matthew Schoenaerts and Ben Whishaw as Lili’s former and prospective interests. And Danny Cohen’s cinematography only adds to the beauty of the picture, adding flourishes to the already ornate art design of the film.

There is Oscar bait written all over this film, so make sure you check it out. “The Danish Girl” is now playing at the Midtown Cinema.


January Special Events
at Midtown Cinema

Midnight Matinee
“Magic Mike”
Saturday, Jan. 2, 11:55pm

Down in Front!
“Creature from the Black Lagoon”
Friday, Jan. 8, 9:30pm

Classic Film Series
“Dr. Zhivago”
Sunday, Jan. 10, 6pm

Dance on Screen
Sunday, Jan. 10, 5pm

3rd in the Burg $3 Movie
“Cool Runnings”
Friday, Jan. 15, 9:30pm

Faulkner Honda Family Film Series
“Cool Runnings”
Saturday, Jan. 16, 12pm
Sunday, Jan. 17, 2pm

Digital Theatre Series
“Jane Eyre”
Sunday, Jan. 24, 3pm

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