Few know the story of transgender pioneer Lili Elbe, one of the first people in history to completely transition. But before she was Lili, she was Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne), a thoughtful, sensitive artist married to fellow oil painter Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander). When Gerda needs a model for her latest work, Einar pretends to be “Lili,” whose existence materializes as feelings from Einar’s past emerge. As Einar realizes that he is Lili, and always has been, he and Gerda must go through the trials of personal and societal acceptance before Lili can become a reality.
Before anything else, the film is beautiful. Eddie Redmayne could not have been more perfect for the role of a lifetime, neatly switching from his work as a young Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. Redmayne is Lili Elbe, in her discoveries, losses, and triumphs, and recreates the moving true story in a way that is neither insensitive nor cheesy. It appeals to audiences who feel far away from the transgender community, inviting them openly to a story of love. Gerda Wegener is played by Alicia Vikander, from sci-fi thriller Ex Machina, a force of sculpted passion and power. The two are the perfect pair, magnetic and fascinating, complemented by Amber Heard as Oola Paulson and Matthias Schoenaert as Hans Axgil.
And if nothing else, see The Danish Girl for the actors and scenery. The film is bafflingly lush; in the beginning, we are introduced to Einar and Gerda as oil painters in trade, locked in the glamorous world of young artists. That imagery, of sun-soaked colors and country frames, perpetrates the story throughout, and attests to director Tom Hooper’s expert arrangement of the elements of cinema.
Lili’s story could not be more timely. In her world, the quaintly rigid 1920’s Copenhagen, no one had ever heard of transgender people, much less accepted their place in society. Even now, the transgender community struggles to be heard, their voice amplified by celebrities like Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox. Transgender bathrooms have only become the latest thing of debate. And not only does The Danish Girl address intimately and sensitively one woman’s story, it also uncovers the anger, frustration, and love behind Gerda’s struggle of losing her husband to what seemed like another person. Their love story, tried and true, plays at the heart of a masterful film. The Danish girl will be remembered.