An Introduction and the Exploitation of The Danish Girl

Film has been a positive force in my life for a long time now.  After a childhood growing up in a largely film ignorant family, I’ve spent the past decade falling in love with the art, and it has become a pillar in my life.  I find that I’m always at my happiest when I can discuss movies with my friends.  Though, I also find that my tastes are isolating towards many of my friends however.  My love of the arthouse/ avant-garde and distaste of mid-brow popcorn flicks leaves me in a curious position for discussing my passion with those around me.

And then there’s my recent history.  I’m in the process of transitioning as a transgender woman, and it’s been consuming the majority of my mental capacity.  While I’ve been blogging about that separately, I’ve found that film has been my one remaining distraction, a welcome reprieve from my otherwise engulfing uncertainty.  I need an outlet to discuss my passion in this turbulent time.  And that brings me here.  While I’ve tried and failed at film blogging before, I’m hoping that the writing routine that I’ve developed in my other blog will help me succeed.

What am I going to write about?  I don’t want to pigeon-hole myself too much into any one plan.  I want to write about a variety of things, both new releases, and older films. In addition to just writing standard reviews, on occasion, I want to look at films from various critical viewpoints.  Specifically, I believe that the transgender community is both under and poorly represented in the world of film.  While I have no right or ability to speak on behalf of the entire transgender community, I hope that my specific life situation can shed some interesting light on these topics.

Danish Girl

With those goals in mind, I want to focus on my first film: The Danish Girl.  I had high hopes for The Danish Girl when I first saw trailers months ago.  Eddie Redmayne was excellent portraying Steven Hawking in The Theory of Everything last year, and I hoped he would bring the same sense of knowledge and compassion to Lili Elbe.  What we got instead was a melodramatic film by cis people, staring cis people, and for cis people.

The revelation shots of Redmayne trying on stockings or pressing his breasts together in order to approximate cleavage reeked of exploitation.  There seems to be an obsession with this created point of revelation, though by the screenplay’s own admission Lili had always been there.  The extended revelation scenes were purely inserted as an artificial metamorphosis so that the cis community can view and isolate the moment where she “became” Lili.  After embracing and committing to herself, the screenplay doesn’t attempt to invoke sympathy for Lili as she undergoes an emotionally devastating transition, but instead focuses on the burden that her transition rests on her wife Gerda.  While Gerda’s life is put under an unreasonable amount of stress by the circumstances, the demonization of Lili for “putting her through it” only does more to demonize transgender people and depict them as selfish.

The primary redeeming quality to The Danish Girl is Alicia Vikander’s remarkable performance as Gerda Wegener.  She convincingly depicts the struggle in balancing the loss of her husband and compassion to support her friend.  Her confusion and frustration feel real and appropriate given the scenario in which she finds herself.  Redmayne in contrast plays into the exploitation.  The showy nature in which Redmayne portrays the transformation from Einar to Lili is nothing more than an act attempting to portray something that he does not understand with the dangerous assumption that more acting is better.

In the end, Vikander’s commendable attempts to portray the true emotions of a difficult point in Gerda’s life are lost in the poor screenplay and over acting of her co-lead.  The Danish Girl feels like nothing more than a cash grab; counting on a combination of Redmayne’s recent Oscar success and the public’s recent awareness of the transgender movement due to Caitlyn Jenner’s popularity to sell tickets without respecting the source material or group of people that they depict.