"Written for the screen by Lucinda Coxon and based on David Ebershoff’s novel of the same title, “The Danish Girl” is a fictionalized biography of Lili Elbe (as Einar Wegener came to be known), one of the first people to attempt sex reassignment surgery. Lili’s encounters with prevailing medical wisdom, culminating in her meeting with a sympathetic doctor (Sebastian Koch), form a harrowing subplot. And her bravery makes this film a welcome tribute to a heroic forerunner of the current movement for transgender rights. It’s impossible not to be moved by Lili’s self-recognition and by her demand to be recognized by those who care most about her.
But it’s also hard not to wish that “The Danish Girl” were a better movie, a more daring and emotionally open exploration of Lili’s emergence. As it is, the film, like its heroine for most of her life, is trapped by conventional expectations and ways of being. If, that is, Lili is really the heroine at all. The film’s title phrase is uttered on screen once, by Einar’s childhood friend Hans (Matthias Schoenaerts), a Paris art dealer, in reference to Gerda. And it is Gerda’s ordeal that provides the narrative with its emotional center of gravity.
When “The Danish Girl” was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival this year, Kyle Buchanan, writing for Vulture, complained that it was part of a trend of “queer and trans films that are actually about straight people.” Not that the emphasis on Gerda’s experience is illegitimate. She is called upon to support the man she loves as he erases himself from her life, and Ms. Vikander registers the anguish and ambivalence, as well as the passionate loyalty, that Gerda feels as Einar gives way to Lili (Scott, 2015)."
When I first watched 'The Danish Girl', I was moved, hopeful, and ultimately touched by Lili Elbe's story and that there is actually a movie about the trans-community. After reading this review, I started to look at the movie in a different way. Scott writes, "As it is, the film, like its heroine for most of her life, is trapped by conventional expectations and ways of being. If, that is, Lili is really the heroine at all." So 'The Danish Girl' was Gerda all along? This is a "'queer and trans film[s] that [is] actually about straight people'"??? Come to think of it... The movie did show the Lili's struggle through transition, but its showed more of Gerda's struggle to accept that her husband wants to transition. Scott's review made me think twice about the film, discover multiple layers, and critique its intent. Nonetheless, I still feel as though it's a great film in support of the trans community.