Film & Television · Sex & Sexuality

Movie Review: ‘The Danish Girl’ — Transexual Reality Then and Now

x900The Danish Girl (Focus Features)

When Bruce Jenner became Caitlyn Jenner last year, it generated a lot of press. For most of us, any person who goes through gender transition sparks curiosity. But, here was an Olympic champion, a gold-medal decathlete, who had been an international symbol of strength and stamina. Jenner revealed her identity in April, and posed for the cover of Vanity Fair a couple of months later. Since then, she has been the target of criticism and ridicule (most recently at The Golden Globes). But Jenner has also starred in her own reality show (I Am Cait) and been recognized for her bravery   by numerous organizations and media. This raised debate however, which Adrienne Tam of the Daily Telegraph responded to by saying “Without a doubt, the police officer who died in the September 11 attacks was courageous. But so is Jenner. It’s a different kind of courage, but it is courage nonetheless.”

That was 2015, twenty-seven years after the “T” (for transgender) was first added to the acronym LGB (lesbian, gay, bisexual) and forty years since Tim Curry put on fishnets and garters and introduced himself as “A sweet transvestite from Transexual Transylvania.” I’m not arguing that Jenner’s announcement was easy, but how much harder might it have been nearly 100 years ago?

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The Danish Girl, directed by Tom Hooper and written by Lucinda Coxon (based on David Ebershoff’s novel), is inspired by the true story of 1920s Danish painter Lili Elbe (born Einar Wegener) and wife Gerda Wegener. Elbe was one of the first people to have sex reassignment surgery. The movie follows Lili’s painful search for self and Gerda’s even more painful journey alongside her.

When we first meet the couple, they seem to have a dream relationship. Einar is a celebrated landscape painter; Gerda is a talented (although less successful) portraitist. They live a bohemian life with other artists, opera and ballet stars, and are utterly devoted to each other. Their marriage is passionate and undeniably physical. This makes Einar’s eventual transition to Lili all the more unfathomable for his wife. READ MORE

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  • Leslie Fabian January 28, 2016 at 10:57 am

    A very thoughtful review, though I think it almost impossible for anyone (who isn’t trans) to put her/himself in the place of a transgender individual (particularly, as you point out, in the early twentieth century, when society was so different from today). You are absolutely right about Alicia Vikander; she nailed the role! I know from whence I speak, as I am the wife of a transwoman and author of MY HUSBAND’S A WOMAN NOW which, Alicia has informed me, was instrumental to her performing so convincingly. We were invited to the premier in LA in November and, despite believing I was completely over “losing” my husband (in 2011), I fell apart as Gerda began expressing her anguish. And, yes; there might have been some anger felt, though would a wife in the 1930s have expressed this?
    Regarding Eddy Redmayne’s portrayal, I believe that thoughts of being female in the 1930s would have been far different from those of trans people in the twenty-first century. Furthermore, it is typical for someone in transition to experience a form of “adolescence” early-on. After a life-time of a man’s imagining what it’s like to be female, hers is very likely to be a superficial representation, at least in the beginning. The elation and relief from the very real depression, angst, self-loathing, etc., of a lifetime causes elation and, yes, perhaps a characterization of being female that may, indeed, lack depth (again, at least in the beginning).
    Thanks for this beautiful review! I agree; it’s a beautiful film.