The most telling aspect of The Danish Girl’s production is that instead of being based off of the memoirs of the main character, it is based off of a novel that is “loosely inspired” by the true events. Essentially, this movie is based off of fan-fiction. This might explain why so much of the film feels disingenuous. While it is clear at times that the intentions are in the right place, it is also clear that the picture is made from an outside perspective. This does not make The Danish Girl automatically invalid, but it does make the film increasingly tiresome and self-congratulatory as it probes into a very controversial subject without adding anything substantial to the discussion.
The narrative focuses on the lives of Lili Elbe (Eddie Redmayne) and Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander), two Danish artists. Once Einar Wegener, Lili Elbe is significant to history as being one of the first identified individuals to receive sex reassignment surgery. Although, it could be argued that The Danish Girl is actually a story about Gerda Wegener’s reaction to her spouse being born in the wrong body. There is a disjointedness between the screenplay and the film as the type of story shifts between one of transformation and one of reaction. In the end, the reactionary side takes over and makes the transformative moments seem more exploitative.
These disjointed moments may also have something to do with the camera’s tendency towards Redmayne. Redmayne’s character always seems to have a much brighter and more focused shot. While this may have been an attempt to establish Lili Elbe as the center of the film, it only makes Lili less of a person and more of a spectacle. Coupled with a screenplay that favors a reactionary point of view, the movie’s direction seems to unintentionally fetishize its main character. This is only further established by Gerda Wegner’s portraits of Lili almost exclusively being erotic. That said, while the camera movement often feels random, the cinematography and art design are very picturesque.
Because a large majority of the film takes place pre-transition, the casting of Eddie Redmayne is not as problematic as it could have been. However, despite the obvious goal of making the film a vehicle for him, he is severely overshadowed by the performance of his co-star, Alicia Vikander. Vikander assumes the active role while Redmayne merely appears to be posing. While Redmayne has done worse (see Jupiter Ascending), his presence for the most part seems to be empty, much like the film. Meanwhile, Vikander is at the top of her game, breathing much needed life into each scene.
If The Danish Girl had opened three or four decades ago, it may have appeared fresh and innovative. Instead, it just feels bland. A faux-biopic is a difficult thing to pull off, and the movie just doesn’t have enough self-awareness to do it. This film is not a malicious attack on transgender rights – in fact, it’s intentions are good – but it’s not compelling enough to be truly helpful. 5/10.