Late last month, I got to attend the Variety's Movies for Grownups series with partner AARP to screen The Danish Girl and attend a Q&A session with director Tom Hooper, screenwriter Lucinda Coxon and producers Anne Harrison and Gail Mutrux.
And while I loved the movie (you can read my review here), the Q&A session was just as eye-opening as the movie had been. Understandably, much of the conversation revolved around the brilliance of both Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander in their roles, along with the importance of telling the story of a trans pioneer at this particular time in history, doing justice to the story while also remaining sensitive and supportive of the trans community.
But the story of The Danish Girl, even more than being the story of Lili Elbe's transition, was a love story that encapsulated that most intimate and ideal type of love, unconditional love. And the portion of the Q&A that resonated the most deeply with me, perhaps because it touched an inner chord of mine gained from personal experience, was when the crew was asked if they'd ever themselves experienced the sort of unconditional love that Gerda and Lili share, whether as the one supported or the one doing the supporting.
When it was Hooper's turn to answer, he shared an anecdote from his childhood that always stuck with him, the spirit of which became the basis for the love story in The Danish Girl.
In his early teenage years, the director's father fell into a deep depression. These depressive bouts, he explained, happened for years, leaving his father unable to cope with many things. This was in blue collar England, back in a time, Hooper reminded us, that people simply did not talk about mental health issues, and men did not admit to anything they saw as a weakness. But no matter how bad his father got, his mother was there for him and "pulled him back again and again" from the edge. She loved him unconditionally, even though dealing with a husband with crippling depression was certainly not what she signed up for.
Just as Gerda did in the film, Hooper's mother took the "for better or worse, in sickness and in health" part of her marriage vows seriously, and was there for Hooper's father every step of the way, saving him throughout their marriage. What is the real meaning of unconditional love? was the theme that held the movie together, and the love story of his own parents was the real-life relationship Hooper used as a touchstone when trying to tell the story of Lili and Gerda's marriage.
Hooper is about as engaging a storyteller as you could hope to find, so it's no surprise that his personal experience translated so well to the on-screen romance of his characters. I strongly encourage anyone who wants to feel more hopeful and have their faith in the power of love reaffirmed to see The Danish Girl.
The Danish Girl is currently in theaters.