director: Tom Hooper
writer: Lucinda Coxon
starring: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Matthias Schoenaerts and Ben Whishaw
genre: Drama | Biopic
released: December 26, 2015 (Australia), January 7, 2016 (Germany), January 22, 2016 (U.S.), January 28, 2016 (Greece)
based on the novel: "The Danish Girl" by David Ebershoff
We all want to arrive to this world complete and feel the same way we do on the inside as we look on the outside. This is though not the case for everyone. In the adaptation of the "first" sex change patient and his/her's experience will be for some inspiring, engaging and enlightening. Though its difficult to fully marvel at it, when its greatest accomplishment is being A grade Oscar bait property. And all historical inaccuracies aside, it needed to have a better connection with its characters trials and tribulations. Rather than focus predominantly on their performances and viewpoint of accepting the change of one's identity on the surface alone.
In Copenhagen Denmark, two artists live happily married together hoping to have a child one day. Einar (Eddie Redmayne) being the one that draws landscapes and is mildly successful, while Gerda (Alice Vikander) draws portraits and is still trying to make her mark.
When Gerda requires one of her portraits to be finished, she asks of Einar to dress up as her model in order to help. Little did she know, this was the push that Einar needed in order to get on the path to becoming the person he/she always wanted to be. Moving on from just dressing up as a woman, to acting and wanting to be one.
Before anything else is mentioned. Filmmaker Tom Hooper really has to make a different kind of the film the next time around. This is now three films in a row that he has made that scream Oscar bait and he has to be aware of his actions. As cinema historians will just remember him as the filmmaker that tried to please only the highest circles of art and cinema. Never truly dabbling into the other genres or stories that may exist.
Nevertheless, his handling of the production can't be criticized too much. Because everything from the costume work, set design, to the look of the era and the music is highly commendable. The acting is also magnificent, with Redmayne and Vikander having done their very best to illustrate the emotional complexity of the characters and the situations that were unknown to society at large.
Now whether a real transgender or homosexual actor should have played the title role as some have stated, I can't say. It's a debate that has been going on for a while with films dealing with homosexuality or characters who are (Milk, Brokeback Mountain) and it should be acknowledged at some point. Its similar to the casting of non natives/ethnics in the roles of Pharaohs, mythological Gods or indigenous figures (Gods of Egypt). Inevitably, these decisions have always been more about marketing than anything else. Which maybe is a surprise to some, but is also one of the main problems of the film.
The film was sold and implied to be the historical biopic of the first successful operation from a male to a female patient. But the film isn't exactly that, nor is it historically accurate. Naturally, I understand the film does have the tagline inspired in its marketing material. But still that isn't the whole truth and many will not know of the behind the scenes inspirations, adaptation process or that it is "inspired" rather than based. Firstly, its adapted from the novel that was based on Einar/Lily's memoirs, of which changed much of the original details of the true story, which the film followed suit. Delicate details such as Gerda actually being a lesbian, knowing entirely about Einar/Lilly's duality and them having an open relationship. Now the true story, may not have been the adequate drama or conversation starter the book or the film wanted to be. But that's how things really went down. Also, the reason why Lily did die, wasn't due to the operation of becoming a woman, but because she tried to have uterus and possibly bear children. Whether all this makes the film worse it doesn't, exactly. But, it also doesn't make it accurate or feel candid. Which it kind of needed to be or it could have just told a completely fictional story.
On the film itself and without taking into account the original story. Its handling of the subject matter in regards to its intensity of it, nature of performances, while also the complexity of emotions at play. Is exceptionally orchestrated and portrays incredibly what one person could go through and the tirade of emotional guilt and pressure they would have. Especially in an era when these feelings and desires were misinterpreted as insanity and defined to be illegal acts by many nations of the time.
Where the film does a lousy job in my opinion, is to the degree it deals with its subject matter and escalation of Einar's decision to go full on into his act/personality of Lily and lack of clarity there in it. Concerning his change of behavior, not much is explained and during the film it's treated somewhat as if he has a dual personality disorder, while later being implied that it was not at the forefront, but just hidden away. However, in the beginning of the film it doesn't seem that Einar had to go on the path towards becoming Lilly. As he seemed happy Gerda, participating intercourse, acting as a man and throughout their 6 years of marriage never made Gerda or anyone for that matter suspicious of knowing who he truly was on the inside. The problem with all this is that the film never lets you outright know Einar's internal state of mind, choice of actions or reason for non exposure. For example was he Lily from the get go, but acted as Einar the whole time as a charade/to survive? Was he with two personalities and chose to go with Lily who finally came out to be dominant? And what if Gerda never told him to wear that dress and make up, would Lily never come about? None of this is ever spoken about, elaborated or hinted at. Never do we get a real clue if there was something bubbling on the inside with pain and emotional angst to be a woman before the change. Its not enough to just have us the audience see he likes to touch women's clothing and fix his wife's lipstick. Because the film just goes with the whole Lilly plot in a way that is hasty and without explanation. Albeit, they mention that he did have these sort of feelings as a kid, but the radical change inside him only happened from wearing once women's clothing and just because he was asked to. This excuse me for saying, doesn't make a lick of sense. One, because I would never truly know (as I am a heterosexual male) and two, because it does feel sudden with no backstory and reasoning. It's just one event that makes him flip. Also, I must reiterate the fact that Gerda was oblivious for 6 years, with Einar never having revealed his true nature or making Gerda think twice. Sorry to say, it just seems all too good to be true.
Additionally, while their are moments where the characters confront each other and speak of how they feel and the situation at hand, it isn't at all enough. A scene for example will play out in the manner of Einar/Lily saying "I feel like a woman" and that she must become one. But then that's it, it wont go further than that. Or with Gerda proclaiming to "need her husband" and not Lily, but not saying more than that. I know cinema sometimes is all about the subtext underneath and that not everything has to be said. However, this film more than any other required its characters to describe what they were going through, rather than only stating what they wanted. This is what I think depraves the film most in gaining a stronger connection with its audience. As we are never given time to understand why Einar needs to be a woman or how Gerda feels about the whole predicament. It seems more time was spent in cultivating an environment for performances to flourish and ideas to be accepted, than be understood.
The tale of the "first" male to female patient isn't entirely accurate, but that isn't the worst of it. Worse is its false advertising and handling of Einar's change from man to woman and his interactions with his wife Gerda, that needed to have been further developed. Everything else is magnificent with masterful performances, well handled dramatic scenes and high production values. It's just difficult not to talk about the film, without mentioning the unfortunate and avoidable incongruities.