Everyone perceives film so differently. While I so desperately wanted to loath the film due to its problematic areas, as I watched it, I found myself almost falling in love with it. Here I am, days after watching the film, and I still feel as if I watched it only a few moments ago.
A little background:
The film, The Danish Girl (2015), directed by Tom Hooper depicts the the relationship between painters Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener while Lili goes through her transition from male to female. Lili’s name prior to her transition was Einar Wengener. Gerda and Einar were married for a handful of years before Lili transitioned. This happened during the 1920s in Europe when being trans was practically unheard of and their was no knowledge or language for what Lili was experiencing and feeling. Many people and doctors thought Lili was clinically “insane.” Having dressed up like a women as a joke, Einar has this epiphany were she realizes that she is a women and must transition. Gerda has no idea how to take this and the emotional turmoil she goes through is heavily shown in this film. Gerda and Lili slowly adjust to their new life and continue to still live together but more on a friendship level. Since the social construct of gender was unknown at this point in time, Lili thought that in order to be a complete women, she needed to go through a bottom surgery meaning her penis was removed and a vagina was constructed. Medical advances were still behind and complications of Lili’s surgery ended up causing her death. After Lili’s death, the end of the film shows Gerda finally moving on from losing her husband and setting Lili free.
Now that is a very simplistic way of describing the film. The film was raw, emotional, and beautiful to look at. Just because the movie was visually beautiful and I really enjoyed it for personal reasons, does not mean the film is without its flaws. In fact the movie is heavily flawed.
To start, the story line is completely inaccurate. What actually happened between Gerda and Lili was taken from Lili’s personal diaries which was made into a book. The film then takes bits and pieces from that book and we get a different end result. The film is two translations of Lili’s life through different eyes the creator of the book about Lili’s life and the director of the film. Giving an inaccurate story of Lili’s life does not honor her and what she went through. It’s Hollywood appropriating her and Gerda’s experience.
Secondly, the actor that plays Lili is Eddie Redmayne, a cis gender white man from Europe. This is problematic because trans lives should be portrayed by trans actors. It is their story to portray and trans writer, C. Grant put it well by saying, “even though he’ll [Redmayne] be able to shed off the experience after a probable Oscar win, all the while having it be a matter-of-fact point of life for me and millions other transwomen like me” (2015). Transwomen cannot shed off the emotional experiences they have gone through and will continue to have to go through and Redmayne couldn’t possible understand that yet, he was chosen to play this role. The fact that the director is a cis man as well creates problems because we are seeing what he wants to see and he too would never understand what it is really like to be trans leading to an inaccurate portrayal.
Thirdly, it is unclear who the movie is really about. Is it Lili’s or Gerda’s story. It is unclear because we vividly see Gerda’s emotions and Lili’s character is more surface level. If it was truly Lili’s story, we would be brought into her mind more by really seeing her emotions. Finally, Gerda is referred to as a Danish girl in the film leading me to believe the movie was about her. Needless to say, the movie failed to really dive into the lives of these women to give a true understanding of what was going in their lives and their relationship causing ambiguity.
What I liked:
Though this film has problematic areas and can be seen a major problem to the LGBTQ+ community, their were still parts of the film that I thought were positive. Lets think about who the audience is here. I do not think it is directed towards the queer community. I think its purpose was to reach those who are outside of the community and who might be new to the topic of trans identities. This movie showed that it is perfectly ok to be trans. You are not insane, you are not wrong, what you are going though is valid. This film was marketing to a community with little knowledge to introduce trans life in a way that is understandable.
I also liked that it allows meaningful discussions to come to the for front. It brings even more visibility to the trans community by allowing them to say what they thought about the film, why they thought it was problematic, and what should happen moving forward. To me, having the opportunity to speak on why a film is problematic is more impactful than having no movie and no visibility at all. Now I am a cis person so I can only speak on my behave and how I perceived the film.
All in all, the film brings visibility to the trans community but still has problem areas that need to be addressed and discussed.
Grant, C. 2015. A trans woman’s take on the danish girl. Link: http://www.indiewire.com/2015/12/regressive-reductive-and-harmful-a-trans-womans-take-on-tom-hoopers-embarrassing-danish-girl-213499/
Hooper, T. (Director). 2015. The Danish Girl [Film]. United Kingdom: Working Title Films.