Tom Hooper directs some Oscar fodder once again with an unconventional but passionate fictionalised love story inspired by the relationship and lives of Gerda Wegener and Einar Wegener, the latter of whom would go on to become Lili Elbe, one of the first documented recipients of gender reassignment surgery. Eddie Redmayne stars as Einar and Lili with the blazing Alicia Vikander playing Gerda. So is the awards hopeful a strong contender?
Though it is the type of work that can be immediately associated with awards season due to its subject matter and the pedigree of the team involved, I don’t see The Danish Girl contending in any section other than acting. The film itself is carried by the performances of it’s two leads, Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander (who is just having an amazing year). Both deliver on such an emotional and dramatic scale that it elevates the film above the quality of the rest of its components, very similar to The Theory of Everything. The two start out with good chemistry when they are playing man and wife, but it’s when Einar starts his transformation into Lili that the best of both their abilities are on show. For Redmayne it’s when he displays great subtlety in his role through small facial expressions, and body movement as Einar steadily embraces his inner emotions, recognising his true personality is Lili Elbe. Vikander’s performance, though a lot more expressively outward, is just as impressive as she rises to the challenge of playing a wife whose love and life is changing before her eyes. What provides them this platform to exhibit such powerful performances is the foundation of two very different inner struggles, both of which are just as meaty as the other.
Outside of the two great leads the rest of the film is just good, this by no means should be a detraction from the film as it has plenty of quality but it does lack the wow factor one might expect. Hooper uses some nice subtle direction throughout the film through minor changes in focus, especially when Einar begins to notice how at home he feels in different clothing and being out in public as Lili. Also composer Alexandre Desplat puts in some work that could easily win him another Academy Award with some wonderful music that majestically plays in the background throughout the film.
Now what stops the film itself from becoming great is it’s rather conventional tragic ending (I know you can’t change history, but it didn’t end like that), and it’s very bland observation of how a transgender person would have been treated during the period. Though the relationship between Lili and Gerda is unconventional and a marked refreshing change to the Hollywood love story, everything else surrounding it is basic. Aside from the montage of doctors diagnosing Lili as schizophrenic or insane and Gerda’s struggles with whom Lili is, the world around Lili is one that seemingly turns a blind eye to the transformation. In fact it is a world that seems more accepting than the one we live in now. Obviously the focus of the story is their relationship but it could have benefited from using a wider perspective on the perception of Lili’s life. In fact their relationship could have used more of the facts of what happened in their lives (there marriage was annulled by the King of Denmark and they winded up in different relationships at the end of Lili’s life), these significant events were worth mentioning and would have added another wrinkle to the film.
Overall the film is a good love story that features a relationship rare to film. The performances are excellent and the score is loving, but the story and relationship portrayed is a flowery observation of a tough transformation. The performances alone are demand a viewing, but there is a spark missing which could have made this a powerful film.