Friday, December 25, 2015

The Danish Girl (Britain, USA, 2015)

Nine Things About the Film The Danish Girl

1. I have rarely been so conflicted about a movie as I am about this one.

2. If I had to describe the actual movie in one word, it would be "exquisite". If I had eight more words, they would be "one of the best movies of the year". But if I had ten more words, they would be "why did they change so much of the real story?"

3. The movie is a pseudo-biography of Lili Elbe, one of the first known transgender women to undergo sex reassignment surgery.  And that's exactly the problem - it is a pseudo-biography. The movie is not based on Lili's journals or the couple's real story - it's based on a fiction book about Lili.

4. The story is about two married painters, Gerda and Einar Wegener. in 1920's Copenhagen. A series of small, random events slowly leads Einar to realize that he is really a woman. This challenges everything that the two of them know.

5. The movie is amazingly well-balanced in its treatment of the subject of transgender identity. It stays true to what being transgender means, but also respectfully portrays the realistic difficulties that people in the transgender person's life grapple with. Even the people that try to "fix" Lili are not portrayed as villains, just ignorant of a complicated reality.

6. I have come to the conclusion that Eddie Redmayne is one of the best actors on the planet. Not only did he give the best performance of 2014 in The Theory of Everything (he's actually the only reason to watch that movie), he gives the best performance of 2015 in this movie. I understand the criticism that maybe they should have cast an actual transgender woman in the role of Einar/Lili, but I'm not sure I agree with that. Redmayne does a masterful job of reaching the common humanity that exists in everyone.

7. Since both Wegener's were painters, painting is a large element of the movie. And in a work of visual genius, many of the movie's scenes are composed as paintings themselves. Sometimes it's hard to focus on the story because the picture itself is so beautiful.

8.  The ending of the movie is a little overbaked, but the rest of the movie is strong enough to make me overlook that.

9. It's really hard for me to be OK with the fact that they didn't stick to Einar/Lili's real story.  But if you look at the movie as a work of art, and not of history, this is a deeply layered, nuanced meditation on gender roles, identity, love, commitment, loneliness, and confusion. It's about being human.