Gerda and Einar Wegener were truly a pair of artists in love. While Einar had already achieved a sense of fame, Gerda was still searching for true recognition of her talent. When she gets the idea one day to have her husband pose for a painting in women’s clothing, the finished work becomes a sensation overnight. While Gerda enjoys playing a game with her husband across gender lines, Einar begins to see himself transitioning into a woman, becoming more comfortable in his feminine persona. As she becomes Lili Elbe in mind and spirit, she chooses to be one of the first male-to-female sex reassignment patients.
Groundbreaking Pioneer: Lili Elbe was a woman by gender far before she underwent surgery, but her story brings to light the fluidity of gender. As Einar, he loved his wife dearly. They had a romance that could not be mistaken for anything else. While there may have been feelings of dissonance in his identity, it was not until the painting that he truly began to explore them. While Gerda was playing a game at first, she quickly realized that something was different about her husband. They never stopped loving each other, but their love was no longer the simple, traditional love of a man and a woman. Their love was transcendent of that definition and personified itself in how she stuck by him even as their romantic love faded with his transition.
Oscar-Worthy Performances: Most of the film was focused on two characters. For Eddie Redmayne’s Einar/Lili, there was a femininity he portrayed throughout the film that fit perfectly for the story. He exemplified feminine qualities of grace of movement and a sense of demure. Just as stunning was the supporting performance provided by Alicia Vikander. 2015 was a huge year for her, as she also starred in the quirky drama Ex Machina. Being in the position of losing your husband through gender transition is something that cannot be easy on either side. There is a loss or redefinition of identity of self and of being part of a pair that Alicia portrayed with stunning grace and kindness.
Uneven Story About Transformation: One of the things that this film is unable to boast is the development of its story. While the acting is phenomenal by its male and female leads, the storytelling keeps an almost quiet, shy tone, failing to explore the depth of the identity to the extent it could. There was little inner dialogue that could be determined from the relationship between Gerda and Einar/Lili, but rather focusing on some simple dialogue and non-verbal acting. Including the additional story about Gerda’s reconnection with childhood friend, Hans Axgil (Matthias Schoenaerts), seemed to distract from one of the most important times of the transformation into Lili. Making the decision to get the surgery seemed like something that was rushed at the end of a story that had been elongated up to that point.
Final Verdict: While the screenplay may not have been the strongest of last year, the acting in the film was definitely toward the top. Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander were truly stunning in their roles and transformations as a couple. The topic is also quite timely, as politically there are plenty of questions about society’s acceptance of the transgender community.
Dan’s Rating: 3.5/5