Film & Television · Sex & Sexuality

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

Alicia Vikander, on the other hand, presents a quiet strength through what must have been an unimaginable situation. Her performance is richer and more layered than Redmayne’s. He seems to long for the trappings of womanhood, but his wife is the genuine article. Lili’s decision to move forward with, at the time, quite dangerous surgery is positioned as courage. But, it feels more like quiet desperation. Gerda’s decision to stay by Lili through the ordeal, even though in essence Lili is murdering Gerda’s husband, feels much braver. Vikander, who is just 27 and from Sweden, is best known as the young queen in 2012’s A Royal Affair and for a supporting role as Kitty in the same year’s adaptation of Anna Karenina. With The Danish Girl, she is getting the recognition she deserves and I look forward to seeing her in more projects soon.

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It’s always difficult to criticize a particular movie when it revolves around real-life sensitive material. You run the risk of seeming to be against the cause the film is trying to illuminate. I don’t for a minute doubt that the decisions Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener (and hundreds of other couples over the past century) made were difficult and emotional. I certainly support all of today’s Lilis, Gerdas and, yes, Caitlyns.

The Danish Girl is a beautiful film that reflects fine work from everyone involved. But, just as Caitlyn Jenner was criticized, justly, for joking that the hardest part of being a woman is “figuring out what to wear,” The Danish Girl oversimplifies Lili’s transition. If all she really craves are the trappings of femininity, she is missing more than a second x-chromosome. Vikander’s complex portrayal of Gerda’s strength and love reveals much more about the essence of being a woman.


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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.