"If you truly love something you must learn to let it go. . ." -Albert Schweitzer.
From beginning to end, those words resonate throughout The Danish Girl. They weave themselves through every scene and every line, leaving the viewer both hopeful and heartbroken for the love story unfolding before them.
In The Danish Girl we are introduced to Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne), a succesful Danish painter. Also introduced is Gerda Wegener, his wife, played by Hollywood ingenue Alicia Vikander. A painter herself, Gerda asks Einar to sit one day as a ballet model for her latest painting. She hands him stockings, shoes and a beautiful dress to wear.
Hesitant at first, Einar finally relents and agrees to pose for her. As he prepares himself we see a new side of who he is take shape. From the methodical sliding into the stockings, to the gentle caresses of the lace laden dress, it becomes clear that Einar feels a connection to his true gender through these objects.
Intrigued, Gerda takes Einar to an artist's party, dressed as a girl whom they call Lili, playing it off as a type of game. Soon however, Lili begins to become the dominant force in their marriage, leaving Einar far behind, as she embraces this newfound outlet for freedom. Einar confesses that Lili has always been a part of who he is, and no matter how hard he tries to suppress her, Lili is his true identity.
Because of her love for Einar, Gerda tries to be encouraging as Lili begins to show herself more and more. However, as Einar slips further away, Gerda begins to break, craving the presence of her husband. Lili then makes the decision to undergo gender reassignment surgery, fully embracing her identity as a woman. At first, Gerda struggles with this idea, but eventually supports Lili in her decision. She stays with Lili throughout the painful process, faithfully by her side until Lili's unexpected death due to complications after the surgery.
Though beautifully made, this fictitious retelling of actual events is often hard to watch. Although Lili's story is widely considered a tale of bravery and self-acceptance, it is Gerda that had me most intrigued throughout the film. Though on the surface she is the long-suffering, supporting wife, Gerda never lets herself become lost in the process of Lili confirming her identity.
Through her unwavering honesty, Gerda grounds the film in undeniable reality. She shows that the process of gender transformation is not only difficult for those undergoing the reassignment, but for their loved ones as well. To have loved and been loved by an individual who no longer exists is heartbreaking. Although hard, it is Gerda's eventual embracing of this reality that truly shows her unconditional love for both Einar and Lili.
The actor's dedication to their characters in this film is both admirable and outstanding. As Lili, Eddie Redmayne embodies not only an individual seeking peace, but a pioneer as well. From her mannerisms to her speech, Redmayne expertly morphs into Lili. He handles her story with a delicate touch, turning what could have easily been a contrived performance into one that demands both empathy and respect.
Alicia Vikander handles Gerda's emotions with veracity and grace, leaving the viewer enamored with her character. She embodies Gerda masterfully, driving home her character's heartache with every line and movement she makes. From each lingering glance, to subtle wit and determination, Gerda comes alive through Vikander's wonderful performance.
In fact, if it weren't for the aforementioned performances, The Danish Girl would lack a soul. It is in the chemistry of the two leads that this film finds it heart, resonating with its audience as a love story rather than a documentary on gender reassignment. This is a film that relies heavily on its actors and flourishes because it does so.
So, is this a groundbreaking film? No, I do not believe it is. The dialogue is familiar and worn, and the direction comes across as a bit pretentious and labored at times. What The Danish Girl does succeed at though is beautifully showcasing an unconventional love story. This is not a film that will leave you feeling warm and fulfilled as you leave the theater. This is a film that takes a hard look at true love and its inescapable consequences. This is a story that stands as a testament to true love and its ability to redeem. This is, The Danish Girl.