Adapted by screenwriter Lucinda Coxon from David Ebershoff's first novel, "The Danish Girl" is an unforgettable story of love. Lili Elbe, so beautifully portrayed by Eddie Redmayne, was one of the first individuals to undergo gender confirmation surgery, trans-gendering from a man to a woman.
Lili was born Einar Wegener, a male, though her gender identity was female. Einar, a successful artist, met and married Gerda (Alicia Vikander), a fellow painter, but one not as commercially recognized as Einar. Gerda's usual model, Ulla (Amber Heard), a renowned dancer and dear friend, is unable to sit one afternoon, so Gerda implores Einar to substitute as her female model.
Einar, who has suspicions that he is, in fact, a female, balks at the idea at first. But once he dresses in Ulla's costume, his true feelings emerge. With Gerda's help and support, Einar transitions into Lili.
Not satisfied, however, with her current life, Lili wishes to make her gender permanent by undergoing surgery, which in 1926 Copenhagen is not possible. Seeking help, Lili and Gerda turn to Dr. Warnekros (Sebastian Koch), a German physician who is performing experimental gender confirmation surgeries. It is a huge risk for Lili --- and for Gerda, who loves her. But Lili feels she has no choice.
Redmayne, who won his first Oscar this year for 2014's portrayal of Stephen Hawking in "The Theory of Everything", is again stupefying as Lili. He is a master at perfecting his craft, with the smallest nuance never
overlooked --- the tilt of her head, the play of her hands, her coquettish smile. He's enchanting and captivating as Lili --- and oh so lovely. Redmayne is the perfect choice for this role, and director Tom Hooper, who had worked with him on "Les Miserables", knew he was the only one who could embody this intense character.
Vikander is ethereal as Gerda. She is totally gorgeous in her own right, but as Gerda, she is competing for attention from Lili, as she navigates this difficult journey with her. I loved her portrayal. It is sad, filled with melancholy --- and yet Gerda is an inspiration for Lili, and she allows Lili to explore her options even though she is painfully aware of the dangers. It is a stellar performance, and come Oscar season, both she and Redmayne will be front runners as nominees.
Hooper is such an accomplished director, best known for helming "The King's Speech". He is well aware of the perils involved with tackling a delicate subject such as this. Though discussions of transgender women and men are more common today, there remain moviegoers who may find this material offensive --- which is ludicrous.
But Hooper has assembled a cast and crew that are unsurpassed. Not only are Redmayne and Vikander superb, but Heard is absolutely stunning as their confidante and great friend. Matthias Schoenaerts has a supporting role as Hans, Einar's childhood companion who aids Lili and Gerda in their time of need. He's marvelously understated and effective, along with Koch as the sympathetic doctor who attempts to right nature's wrong.
The crew includes Director of Photography Danny Cohen ("Room", "The King's Speech") who is brilliant --- the film is breathtaking with a palette of muted colors that suit the time period and subject matter. The costumes by Paco Delgado and production designs by Eve Stewart, are fabulous. It's true --- I am a sucker for period pieces, but "The Danish Girl" deserves the praise. And lastly, the exceptional score by Alexandre Desplat suits all of the beauty of the movie exceptionally. "The Danish Girl" is a masterpiece!
Opinion: Strong See It Now!
For the second year in a row, Eddie Redmayne has portrayed a real-life individual trapped in his own body. As the gnarled scientist Stephen Hawking in "The Theory of Everything", Redmayne earned an Academy Award for Best Actor.
In "The Danish Girl", he plays Einar Wegener, a married man in 1920's Copenhagen who feels similarly confined, not due to a malady, but because he believes he is, and should live his life as, a woman. He is soon transformed into Lili Elbe. Redmayne's performance could make him the first back-to-back Oscar winner in 21 years, since Tom Hanks won for "Philadelphia" and "Forrest Gump".
A film about a transgender man in a heterosexual marriage, especially a man seeking the ultimate transformation via surgery, probably wouldn't have made it to the silver screen 30, 20 or even 10 years ago. Things have obviously changed in our culture, and in the capable hands of Oscar-winning director Tom Hooper ("The King's Speech"), "The Danish Girl" is a heart-rending, emotional homage to one man's courage to find the true meaning of his existence.
But it's not a journey he travels alone. Einar's wife, Gerda (Alicia Vikander, "Ex Machina"), must cope with the reality that her husband and best friend is becoming only the latter, that the "husband" part of her life is vanishing forever. As a struggling artist in Denmark, she painted Einar as a woman, which set in motion the gradual changes in Einar's life.
Vikander is also generating deserved Oscar buzz for her touching performance. She complements Redmayne perfectly. Gerda's grace under pressure, when her world is collapsing, is remarkable. Their conversation near the film's conclusion, when Lili is about to undergo a second operation, and Redmayne's reaction when she is left alone in her hospital room, are powerful testaments to superior acting and writing.
A side plot involving Einar's boyhood friend, Hans (Matthias Schoenaerts, "Far from the Madding Crowd"), which turns into a love triangle, is handled intelligently by Hooper and screenwriter Lucinda Coxon, based on the novel by David Ebershoff. Veteran actor Sebastian Koch portrays Einar's surgeon, Dr. Warnekros, in a matter-of-fact, but compassionate, manner.
"The Danish Girl" is spellbinding, and Redmayne has confirmed his status as one of our greatest actors. It's a quiet film that allows its viewers to feel the raw emotions of people caught up in a personal perplexity that few of us would ever experience.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!