'Tha Danish Girl' is deeply moving and human
The Danish Girl; 120 min; Rated R
It’s 1926. The place is Copenhagen, Denmark. Two artists, Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne) and his wife, Gerda (Alicia Vikander), married some six years, live a contented, bohemian life, both in search of galleries that will carry their work. Einar, a landscape painter, is finding more success than Gerda, who has thus far confined herself to portraits of wealthy burghers.
Their connection, through touch and gaze, reflects a sustained intimacy, revealing in countless subtle ways a relationship that they both cherish as they stand before easels, working, or waking in the early morning, basking in the soft early morning light, the diaphanous curtains of the bedroom creating a luminescent glow. Looking out the wood-framed windows of their starkly furnished flat is a harbor filled with working boats, their cinnabar and white sails raised, swaying ever so slightly in the wind.
“The Danish Girl” is replete with achingly gorgeous moments, not only between Einar and Gerda, but horizons framed by pink sunsets and bucolic hills obscured by orange and red wildflowers, each image suffused with color and beauty.
Together they share life’s continuum, a kaleidoscope of small and not so small changes. But the depth and breath of their marriage, a touching and visible bond, is seemingly inviolable.
What they are unprepared for is the change that Einar will embark on, a journey that will take him into the distance where his once very masculine image begins to fade until it is barely visible, as if he were standing behind a scrim, his outline growing increasingly dim.
What Gerda is unprepared for is what she set in motion, simply on a lark. She initially asks Einar to pose, covered by a formal gown, her intention only to finish a portrait; she needed the lower legs and feet completed. Einar’s reaction to the feel of the dress, the sheer hose covering his calves, catches him by surprise, stirring emotions that both surprise and disturb. Gerda is oblivious, her focus on the painting.
And so begins for them both a long and unsettling goodbye, defined by anguish and love and an unflinching commitment. Einar is headed into the unknown, to a point on the far end of the spectrum of change. To look at Gerda, her face lovely to behold, even when broken by a wrenching agony, is to find Einar’s choice seemingly inexplicable. And yet to be human, fully human, is to engage in what can be a lifelong quest for self — to be fully oneself. If that is a truism, then it gradually becomes clear that Einar feels incarcerated, often against his will in a body he does not feel is his own. Gerda, however, cannot, at least initially, begin to comprehend what is made manifest.
“The Danish Girl” is breathtaking. It is wondrous in so many ways, not the least of which are the portrayals by Redmayne and Vikander. They completely inhabit their characters. And it is not just Redmayne who must make an astonishing transformation into Lili Elbe. Vikander must summon a depth of understanding and loyalty that encases her in a steely resolve that is for her also a precipice. There are images of each of them wherein their eyes convey a sense of torment and loss that they are both powerless to change. The heartbreaking arc of their lives has been set.
Our popular culture of late has focused on Bruce Jenner who transitioned to Caitlyn. And there has been the success of Amazon’s TV series, “Transparent.”
But keep in mind that in 1926 what Einar was moving toward was the breaking of a taboo for which there was no name, other than schizophrenia. He could only look to Gerda, pleadingly, hopelessly, while she reassured him that he was not mentally deranged or confused. He simply was. She was remarkable. As is this deeply human and moving film.