I finally began cracking through the backlog of 99c movies last week and started with The Danish Girl.
I had heard a bit of discussion about the movie when it was released in the UK some time ago – including the question of a possible second consecutive Oscar nod for Eddie Redmayne so was expecting something worth watching, if only for the performance of the two leads.
The story is based on the real-life experiences of a male Danish artist (Lili Elbe) who was married but who became aware that she was a woman and wrote about it in diary form. She later underwent gender reassignment surgery and was the first or one of the first recipients before the procedures were established and were associated with lower risks To make it even more obscure, the film is not based on the diaries, but on the novel that is based on the diaries, so like the protagonist is wrapped in a shell that leaves it at least once removed from its true self.
The movie almost lost me within half an hour of starting. It is beautifully shot – the two main characters are both artists living in the early 20th century and every scene seems to open with a beautiful composed establishing shot -like the landscapes that Einar (Redmayne) paints. We see Einar at a ballet school walking through a room where tutus hang like impossible powder puffs from the rafters. We see a row of dark mustard buildings against a grey sky. Einar and his wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander) live in a sparsely furnished set of rooms with distressed blue paint on the walls as if the sky has tried to break in. They paint and make love – they are hoping for a baby – Einar is very successful but Gerda is still waiting for a break.
One day everything changes after Gerda asks Einar to stand in for a model who is late. He puts on the stockings and shoes and clearly it awakens something within hm. This is apparently what the diaries recounted and it was around here I began feeling very uncomfortable.
It was not that the film was voyeuristic but I really did feel as if I was intruding. The feeling only got worse as Einar began to explore what at first seemed to be something of an alter ego and pretty quickly resolved itself into being his actual identity. I am not sure why I felt so uncomfortable – perhaps it was the pace – maybe the emphasis of his hands stroking lace edges, or perhaps the knowledge that he was experiencing something that was fundamental and sexual while his wife did not have a clue and watching it, I felt part of a betrayal.
Whatever it was I turned the film off at around 35mins, but after a hour break, I went back to it and was able to make it through. The tale is certainly and extraordinary one – and sad as inevitably the relationship with his wife – who is arguably The Danish Girl in the title – is irrevocably changed.
This is not a movie I would rush to see again – it is easy on the eye, but tough on the heart. Really strong performances from everyone and an extraordinary story, but not for me an easy watch.