THE DANISH GIRL

Between Bruce Jenner’s brave and very public transformation into Caitlyn Jenner last year, the incredible performance of Jeffrey Tambor in the American drama series Transparent, and the trailblazer status accorded to Orange is the New Black star Laverne Cox, the T in the widely used acronym LGBT appears to have captured the cultural zeitgeist. Heck, India even got its first transgender music band recently.
 
Rest assured The Danish Girl, directed by Oscar-winner Tom Hooper, will add momentum to this important conversation around ‘trans’ identity. The film, after all, is based on the true story of Danish landscape painter Einar Wegener, the first person to undergo gender reassignment surgery.
 
Eddie Redmayne, who won an Oscar last year for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, once again proves his immense talent for transformation in playing the central role. He’s absolutely riveting as both Einar, and the woman he becomes, Lili Elbe.
 
The story begins in 1920s Copenhagen when Einar’s beloved wife and fellow artist Gerda (Alicia Vikander) asks him to pose for her in women’s stockings so she can finish a portrait she’s working on. That stirs something inside him. Einar begins to experiment with cross-dressing, and initially Gerda encourages him, even coaxing him to attend a party with her dressed as a woman. But for Einar this is more than a passing charade. It’s the first step towards acknowledging and becoming comfortable with the fact that he’s a woman trapped inside the body of a man.
 
From this point on, you could say the film follows two intertwined narratives. The first is about Einar transitioning into Lili: studying women at a peep show in Paris, negotiating a relationship with a male admirer, even getting beaten up by bullies, before undergoing the crucial operation. But it’s the second story thread – about Gerda torn between helping Lili and losing Einar – that is more powerful. Vikander is mercurial as Gerda; taken aback initially, not always certain how to respond, but always filled with an abiding love for Einar.
 
Like Hooper’s most celebrated film The King’s Speech, this one too is handsomely mounted, although it skims over the messier details of sex and surgery. What it focuses on essentially is the fascinating and touching love story at its centre, and the evolution of both Einar and Gerda, as individuals and as a couple.
 
I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for The Danish Girl. The incredible performances alone demand that you make time for this film. 
 
Rating: 3.5 / 5

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