This past weekend I saw the film, The Danish Girl. I was sorely disappointed. Now before you blast me for not supporting the transgender community, relax. I do – completely. Something else you might note: 1920s and 30s European history is far from my area of expertise – and thus I am sort of breaking from my usual tack on period pieces concerning American history. But still – since I discuss historically themed movies a lot, I feel I must weigh in on this one.
I went to The Danish Girl expecting to see an engaging drama reflecting on love, courage, and fortitude. But what I got was a very prettily glossed and heavily sanitized story screened with the singular objective (I can’t help but believe) to simplify an individual’s experience for a mainstream audience. The truth is – the historical Lily Elbe (played in the film by Eddie Redmayne) was infinitely more interesting than the film suggests, as were the people with whom she was most closely associated. I do not want to ruin things for you if you have not seen the film (spoilers suck). But I highly recommended you poke about the interwebs and try to get your head around exactly how complicated a person she was. In addition, the long suffering Gerda Wegener (played by Alicia Vickander) could be the subject of a fascinating biopic herself. Seriously – I would see this movie. Of course, the film is based on a novel of the same title, which deserves the lion’s share of culpability for taking liberties with the lives of real people. But still…those who wrote the film adaptation could have tried a little harder. My best estimation is that the producers rushed to make a film that would fall in step and get on the right side of twenty-first century civil rights and gender identity issues. I do not discredit their intention, I just wish they had given the central characters more life – and essentially empower the real people involved – not the shallow distilled ones.
Not that the film was all bad. Visually, it was gorgeous. The actors, landscapes and city recreations, sets, staging, and costumes all looked fantastic. And, not for nothing, but Redmayne has really mastered the art of the coquettish grin. But in terms of character depth, The Danish Girl was unsatisfying.
If you ask me (people do that from time to time) the best film I have seen that takes on transgender subject matter is Tangerine. This film is wonderful in every respect – but it is much lesser known, shot on a tiny budget with iPhone technology (in my neighborhood, no less!), and starring unknown actors. It really should get the Oscar nod – I’m not kidding.