When it comes to films, it’s one of the best feelings to see an actress/actor get justly recognised for ground-breaking performances after having seen them in small secondary roles. Who would have guessed that Eddie Redmayne was the powerhouse performer we now know him to be when Les Misérables (or even My Week With Marilyn) came out? But then came the career-defining role that was the portrayal Stephan Hawking in The Theory of Everything that landed him his first Oscar nomination and win — deservedly so. And now, the British actor does it again in The Danish Girl, funny enough, even better than before in what is undeniably his career best.
The film, a fictitious dramatisation inspired by the true story of husband and wife Einar Wegener and Gerda Wegener, touches on the relationship between the two before and during Einar’s physical transition into a female, becoming one of the earliest known sex reassignment surgery recipients. It stars Redmayne and up-and-coming actress Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina, Man From U.N.C.L.E.), with Amber Heard, Ben Wishaw, and Matthias Shoenaerts in minor supporting roles.
Eddie Redmayne stars as Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe. Einar, an acclaimed painter, starts to experience the early stages of his transition when he stands in for an absentee model for his wife’s painting. Redmayne absolutely dazzles with his performance. From his physicalities to his mannerisms, his delivery is one of raw pain and talent bound to touch a chord. He gives the character a sense of fearful fragility that immediately resonates with the viewer. It is a rare talent to not be able to leave any traces of oneself in a role one plays, but Redmayne manages exactly that. Einar and Lili come across as two different (from the actor, even) people (because they are), and he depicts each with such ease. In certain scenes, speech is not even necessary because the actor does it all with his glassy eyes. His is an engaging, passionate, heartful, painfully-good performance that will undoubtedly land him his second Oscar nomination in the same category, perhaps even a back-to-back win, a feat last achieved by Tom Hanks when he won agaim for Forest Gump in ’95.
With an actor like Redmayne in the role that he had in this movie, it’s very difficult to not ignore everyone else. But Alicia Vikander not only shines in her breakout role, she also steals the show from Redmayne in some scenes. She conveys strength and resillience to a grieving wife, but even more so, as a selfless and fierce, fierce friend. With one of the most emotionally-gripping and authentic performances of the year, Vikander, who has been everywhere this year, solidifies herself as a force to be reckoned with. I predict a very long, very successful career ahead for the young actress, and possibly a golden statue here and there. If she gets a nod in the Best Supporting Actress category, I firmly believe she has the best chance of walking away with it, with Rooney Mara of Carol as her main (good but less-deserving) competition.
The supporting cast does as good a job as they can do in their roles, but it is thr infectious vibrancy of Heard, who plays the couple’s close friend Ulla, that helps her steal every scene she’s in. I would have liked to see her in a larger role in the film.
But that’s not who The Danish Girl is about. It’s about the two human beings and the deeply-rooted bond they share. That said, the relationship between the two tends to get a bit confusing at some points, where it seems like a certain plot line is to be executed but is then forgone some time into the film. In terms of story line, better structure would have aided the film plenty. It starts off magnificently, pulling you in so strongly to the characters and their worlds, but the second half of the film, while still good, seems to lose part of the grip the first half has on the viewer.
In terms of dialogue, the script is ridden with some clichés here and there, but is mostly great. The back and forth between the characters in the first half is fantastic, and often paints a smile on the viewer’s face. Given the nature of the movie, I would have liked to see some intimate insight into the mind of Lili (not Einar). At times, it just felt too explicit, hearing things that could have just as easily been said through actions, maybe even voiceovers.
Other than that, The Danish Girl basically excells in all other aspects.
The film is entrancing to look at. It feels like walking through a gallery of the very best of 1920s Italian art. Each shot is beautifully framed; the positioning of the mise-en-scène, the lighting, the camera angle, the body language. It’s an absolutely exquisite film to view. Director Tom Hooper‘s (The King’s Speech, Les Misérables) style resembled that of Wes Anderson, where symmetry, bright colours and witty direction prevailed.
The cinematography is gorgeous. The colour gradients used contrasted with the setting of the film makes the viewing experience ten folds more holistic. I wouldn’t be surprised if cinematographer Danny Cohen walks away victorious come Oscar night.
Of course, photography is made even more beautiful courtsey of the impeccable set design and masterful hair, make-up, and costume design that takes the viewer back to Denmark in the 20s, in the beautifully constructed home of Lili and Gerda.
Fresh off his Oscar win for the score of The Grand Budapest Hotel, Alexandre Desplat‘s work is nothing short of mesmerising in The Danish Girl. It’s a combination of elegant symphonies and numbers that effortlessly makes its way to the viewer’s soul, as is expected when one of the best film composers of the generation is involved in a film. Could Desplat also go two for two?
Tom Hooper‘s film, while flawed to some degree in certain areas, is well worth a watch for an education in the aesthetics of cinema. The Danish Girl honours the life of Lili Elbe, who, with her courage, set the path for many to follow. And as the transgender movement moves closer (slowly, but hopefully surely) to achieving its goals, this blogger wishes for nothing but the same for the trans community here in Lebanon.
This post is dedicated to the memory of all trans lives lost, before Lili’s time and after, for a sense of courage and self-awareness the world today could learn monumentally from. Pictured below is Lili who, today, would have turned 133.
Image Sources: flickeringmyth.com, youtube.com, mashable.com, vagabomb.com, dallasvoice.com, cinemablographer.com, telegraph.co.uk