ByBen Grace, writer at


It's fair to say that reviews of The Danish Girl have been polarising - while most agree that Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander were fantastic as Einar/Lili and Gerda, some have criticised director Tom Hooper's decision to cast a cisgender man in the role of Einar/Lila arguing that the role should have been played by a transgender actor.

Whilst it's certainly a valid issue that's worthy of debate, I'd like to discuss something else - something that's seemingly not been picked up by anyone.

The hidden subtext in The Danish Girl.

Something that really stood out to me while watching this film was the brilliant cinematography and production design by Danny Cohen and Eve Stewart/Michael Standish respectively. That and the symbolism, the glorious, wonderful, magnificent symbolism.

By employing symmetry in the background of wide establishing shots, Danny Cohen shows us the duality of Einar/Lili and her ongoing battle with her identity. Through reflections of Lili in glass, matching paintings on walls and even two identical ink wells, not a scene goes by where a visual reminder of that struggle isn't present. If you pay enough attention, you'll notice just how many background objects come in pairs - doors, windows, the aforementioned inkwells - all signifying Einar/Lili's hidden-in-plain-sight struggle with identity.

But wait! There's more - I have a theory on how the film itself both contains and is one MASSIVE easter egg - one that runs throughout the entire film and is the key to understanding Tom Cooper's vision of The Danish Girl.

Here it is - I believe that director Tom Cooper and Cinematographer Danny Cohen purposely change the framing of Eddie Redmayne throughout the film to signify the change of identity in Einar/Lili.

Let's explain that in more detail. At the beginning of the film, Einar is generally shown on the left of the screen. When he's framed on the right, it's still clear that he's geographically on the left side of the room with other characters positioned to his right. But, as Einar begins to transition into Lili, the framing starts to change. Slowly Eddie Redmayne starts to transition from the left of the screen to the right, mirroring Einar's transition into Lili.

It's through this clever technique that we are able to distinguish who we're truly seeing in every moment, Einar or Lila. Framed on the left? It's Einar. On the right, hello Lila. In the middle? Einar/Lili are struggling with their identity.

Want some evidence? Sweet - let's do it!

Let's start with the big'un' - the scene Einar is convinced to stand in as Gerda's model, holding up a dress and posing as Ulla, a model who's running late. At the beginning of this scene Einar is framed on the left of the frame.

But then something happens as Einar poses. For a moment, before our very eyes, we see Einar disappear and Lili appear for the first time. We know this because Lili is always shown on the right side of the frame.

Moments later, Ulla finally arrives and as Lili disappears, the framing changes again to reflect that we're seeing Einar again.

As Gerda continues to paint Einar in the coming scenes, we're treated to shots like the one below. On the left is Einar, half hidden and beginning to disappear, on the right a rough sketch of Lili, only just starting to emerge and in middle is a person struggling with their identity.

Want some more proof? How about Lili's first public appearance. As Lili enters the party with a supportive Gerda by her side, she's shown on the right of the frame.

But then, Henrik appears and somewhat forcefully takes Lili to a secluded spot in an attempt to seduce her. Clearly, she's not comfortable being Lili in this moment, and it's reflected by framing her on the left of the screen. In this moment, we're seeing Einar not Lili.

How about another? Let's look at the differences between Einar and Gerda's two sex scenes. During the first sex scene (right at the beginning of the film) we have Einar on the left and Gerda on the right.

A few scenes later, as they begin to make love again Gerda discovers that Einar is wearing a silk nightie under his clothing. The lovemaking continues and we see a more dominant Gerda on the left and a more submissive Einar on the right. Only we're not seeing Einar. We're seeing Lili.

How about one more? Let's look at the scene were Einar first visits a doctor trying to seek answers. Throughout the consultation with the doctor Einar is positioned in the middle of the frame. That's because he doesn't know who he is. Note the two windows behind him, echoing this struggle. And the bed on his right, a subtle hint at Einar's future.

In the next scene under the advice of this doctor Einar has agreed to undergo radiation therapy to try and eradicate Lili permanently. At the beginning he's positioned in the centre of the frame. He's undecided whether this is a good idea. Suddenly, Lili emerges as Einar is being strapped down. Lili doesn't want this to go ahead. But Gerda reassures her and we revert back to Eddie Redmayne being positioned in the centre of the screen, again undecided.

As the radiation therapy begins, we see Einar/Lili through a door, literally split in two.

Moments later the doctor enters the frame, obscuring the right side of the frame. A reminder that he cannot (or will not) acknowledge Lili.

These framing techniques continues all the way through the film. By studying the composition of the shot, we're able to witness a frame-by-frame study of Einar's transition into Lili.

Of course, this is just my theory - I've looked online and haven't been able to confirm or deny it - but I'm convinced. I'd invite you to watch the film yourself (or the trailer below) and comment below with your thoughts.

It would have been lovely to say that cinematographer Danny Cohen had received the praise he deserved for this bold and revolutionary concept. But, sadly, he's gotten nowt. No Academy Award nomination. Not a BAFTA nomination. Not even a Golden Globe nod. But, it's my sincere hope, that through repeat viewings, audiences and cinephiles alike will begin to notice and appreciate this man's fantastic craftsmanship.


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