The Danish Girl
Director: Tom Hooper
Writer: Lucinda Coxon
Based on: David Ebershoff‘s novel, which was in turn a ficionalized version of Lili Elbe‘s life
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Amber Heard, Ben Whishaw, Adrian Schiller, Matthias Schoenaerts, Sebastian Koch
Seen on: 25.1.2016
Einar (Eddie Redmayne) and Gerda (Alicia Vikander) are both painters and a happily married couple. While Einar may be more successful than Gerda, at least for now, that doesn’t keep her from continuing to work. When her dancer friend Ulla (Amber Heard) is late for modelling, Gerda asks Einar for help. He feels silly at first, but as he gets in the role, something happens. Einar creates Lili and slowly Lili fights her way to life inside of him.
The way I just described the plot already shows that The Danish Girl is a deeply problematic film – because that is actually an accurate description of how it portrays being trans*. It boils down to a film that is completely misguided and misinformed about what transgender actually is and tears everything apart that stands in the way of that distorted vision, even the basis in reality that it supposedly has.
As a cisgendered person, I am certainly no expert on the trans* experience. But apparently contrary to the film makers, I have spent some time reading, listening and simply informing myself about it. And while there may not be a single trans* experience, I doubt that it’s ever as it is portrayed here: basically as a multiple personality disorder with a strange being hijacking Einar’s body and his mind until there is nothing left of him. How else can I understand scenes where Gerda asks Lili whether she can talk to Einar and she basically tells her, that he isn’t in? Believe it or not, personalities aren’t entirely determined by gender and even if you transition, you’re still you. Arguably you’re even more you.
And that’s not even touching on the fact that they completely disregard Lili Elbe’s actual story. Elbe was likely intersex to begin with and Gerda was happy to live with her as a lesbian couple (which was one of the reasons they moved to Paris, it seems). But that doesn’t fit the film’s narrative of Einar suddenly transforming into a stranger, which necessarily leads to tension with Gerda who finds herself married to somebody she doesn’t know. So instead of the (as far as I know) practically unconditional support Lili received from her partner, we see that transitioning pretty much destroys their marriage. Thanks for that.
When I heard that they had cast Eddie Redmayne, I was very much resolved not to see the film. Casting a cis male actor to play a trans* woman is a dick move (no pun intended) in the first place and the way Redmayne reacted to the criticism made it clear that he hadn’t been briefed at all or made any research himself about transexuality. Which didn’t bode well. But ultimately (when they did show it in English in Vienna after all) Alicia Vikander and Matthias Schoenaerts roped me in. Unfortunately, as I can honestly say, as the film pretty much had me foaming at the mouth the whole time. I was that angry.
Aesthetically it’s a pleasing film, the cast does its best with a script that is doomed to fail and fortunately, King’s Speech!Tom Hooper showed up to work and not Les Misèrables!Tom Hooper. Imagine what the film could have been if they had considered actually including some people from the trans* community (in pivotal roles) instead of alienating pretty much everyone who cares about gender matters.