By Janeece Woodson, Staff Writer
Crying alone in a theater after the credits roll is not a dignified thing to do, but after some contemplation, it was a warranted reaction for “The Danish Girl.” In this story of a transgender woman’s initial shame and confusion, director Tom Hooper offers her story a lot of dignity. It is a fusion of both relevant social anxieties and artistic consciousness. Eddie Redmayne acts as Einar Wegener, an early 1900s painter who receives the first successful gender reassignment surgery in history.
As with many of his past films, such as “Les Miserables” and “The King’s Speech,” Hooper offers compact, tilted camera angles and a swelling musical score that works around the dialogue. However, this film offers something more. Both of Hooper’s aforementioned films are sometimes overwhelmingly bleak and exposed. The actors bear smudges, stubble, and snot; they have cracking voices and choking gasps as if they were alone and unaware of an audience. But Hooper and Redmayne together transform the accomplished, manly, and married Einar Wegener into Lili Elbe, a gorgeous and desired woman, without the blood and dirt and sweat that typically appear in Hooper’s films.
The plot only presents glimpses of the violence and terror Lili’s character faces, which works in the film’s favor. This ambiguity of what happens after Lili is attacked in the street, or threatened by unrelenting psychologists, could strike at anyone’s nerves. Hooper mildly mutes these feelings with Lili’s vibrant persistence with the presence of rolling waves, lace, silks, flowers, paintings, lights, and art. The sequence is very beautiful to watch. It may not be completely realistic, but it is what Lili would have wanted, and that is the point. The scenes look like the paintings of the artists which the film focuses on. Lili’s suffering is contrasted by the lovely natural blues and greens of Denmark and France.
Alicia Vikander (“Ex Machina”) plays a massive part in the film as Einar/Lili’s wife. She has the fortune of possessing both romantic and platonic chemistry with Redmayne, a trait that is rare to see on screen and is also vital to the film’s plot. Although Vikander could easily steal the show, as she plays a formidable, passionate character, she gives way to Redmayne. He commands the film, both as a man and as a woman. In a technical regard, his mannerisms fluctuate in their masculinity and femininity with ease. Not to be dramatic, but it is a sight to behold.
Redmayne, in conjunction with the lighting and close cameras and clever dialogue, shows the audience everything that Lili aspires for, and why it is so enticing. Although a viewer could see this film through the lens of the political and social questions of the day, perhaps it is better to abandon these biases before seeing Hooper’s work. In my opinion, the audience cannot help but observe the loveliness of Lili as she departs from Einar. But “The Danish Girl” does not feel like a story of champions shouting victory on the field. It is also not a tale of how cruel and mortifying the world can be to an outsider. It is somewhere, and quite perfectly so, right in the middle.