Alicia Vikander is the twenty-seven-year -old, Swedish star who graces Vogue’s cover this month under the heading “Hollywood’s Swede Heart”. After seeing her work in five films this year, I think she deserves fellow actor Michael Fassbender’s love. Her roles in “Ex Machina”, “Burnt”, “Testament Of Youth”, “Anna Karenina” and now “The Danish Girl” are top notch.
Vikander is lovely to watch. Ballet trained,she is the daughter of a psychiatrist and a theater actress.She seems to intuit strength and sensitivity. Her emotional range runs the gamut from prideful to suffering.
It is difficult to “steal the show” when working with last year Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne, but she becomes his contender for “The Danish Girl” whose unconditional love may just set the standard for wives disappointed in their husbands’ realities. Gerda (Vikander) deeply loves a man who is gone. This time not for another woman,but for the possibility to become a woman, Lili.
I expected the Lucinda Coxon’s screenplay to be richer since it was based on the actual diary entries of the transgender pioneer Einar Wegener and on the 1933 book “Man Into Woman” the bio edited by Niels Hayes ( a pen name) and the 2001 National Bestseller “The Danish Girl” by David Ebershoff. There is lots of source material here. Too often we are given melodrama and mood settings in place of words which could enhance and support our empathy and understanding. Coxen comes close to this with Einar Wegener’s ( Redmayne ) “I am entirely myself”, “How have I ever deserved such love !” and, ” My mother called me Lili”. Alicia Vikander deserves a few such lines. Instead the score,and the lush decor and her facial features,and the scarf symbol substitute.
Director Tom Hooper uses the Wegener couple as artfully as they paint , he landscape and she portrait.Gerda Gottlieb and Einar Wegener had been college classmates and friends. Their young married life is playful, sexy and tender. Their artistic careers and their dog~ normal focuses. Gerda chides Einar for painting the same few vistas. “You will vanish into the landscapes you do over and over again,” she teases. He smiles and rejoins with “I won’t disappear into the bog. The bog is me.” Prescient as this dialogue is, it is in the next scene that the viewer hears Einar say”can’t a man watch his wife get undressed!” and will feel he is more interested in the clothing. Gerda is intuitive as she throws out,”I might let you borrow it!” She is his wife ,and she already knows what she doesn’t know.
The cross- dressing scenes are a tad uncomfortable, yet they are well- directed and force the audience to be empathetic. We follow Gerda’s lead. She sketches him in the moonlight. Einar wakes to respond to her compliment,”I was always pretty,you just never noticed.” Now the games begin. Seeing that her husband enjoys standing in as her model encompassed in silk and the requisite slippers, she has the idea that he should attend a coming party as ” someone else”. She helps him with make-up and wig ,and they practice a feminine walk. This kinky game and the reality of his feelings eventually causes Einar physical panic, headaches and nosebleeds. We hear of a conflicted youth;we meet Hans ( Matthias Schoenaerts) his childhood friend,and we watch Einar treated for a chemical imbalance with radiation and possible lobotomy, as a treatment for “perversion”. A second opinion labels him “insane”. He escapes a mental hospital by a window and sliding down a drainpipe.
One of the most emotionally harrowing scenes, has Einar examining himself in a full length mirror. We are saddened by his longing for a different body. Redmayne makes us care in his agony.
Gerda’s trust in Einar and her love for him has her reintroducing him to Hans. Hans is drawn to Gerda’s love as she lets her husband go. As Hans sees Einar transposed as Lili he brings the statement, “I have only liked a few people in my life,and you have been two of them.”
Another touching set of frames comes from Einar’s visit to a “peep show”. It takes the naked temptress only a few seconds to understand that Einar wishes to learn her movements rather than be aroused. Sexual identify is treated with steam and fog and cliched train-station goodbyes as Lili readies for her series of operations. Morphine and death at 48 are true details .
Gerda’s paintings become her husband’s dreams. Her renderings of Lili gain her fame and success. Lili never seen puts brush to canvas again. Lili is beaten in a gazebo, contemplates suicide, and tells Gerda that “what you draw, I become.” Lili is in awe of Gerda~ in awe of her womanhood.There is such “power in you, must mean the power of love.
Enjoy the painterly colors, the detailed 1926 Copenhagen setting, and acting that illuminates the shadows, and the use of nature in a full circular beginning and end.