Eddie Redmayne poignantly portrays Einer and Lili, while, Alicia Vikander channels Gerda’s conflicted aching with heartbreaking realism.
This loosely adapted biopic from, “Man into Woman” edited by Niels Hoyer, tells the true life story of Einer Wegener/Lili Elbe being the first person to undergo Sex Reassignment Surgery. the movie starts out slow, painting the artisan environment of Einer and Gerda, however, once Lili fully emerges, the pace picks up though to the conclusion. Intriguingly the enigmatic title could refer to either Lili or Gerda as the Danish girl. Both women are shown in equal piquancy vying for empathy and sympathy.
Portrait artist, Gerda, asks her husband, Einer to stand in for her model, Ulla(Amber Heard) who is running late. Einer puts on the stockings, shoves his feet into ballet shoes, and drapes a dress over top of his clothes so Gerda can finish her painting. Almost cathartic, this act awakens a repressed feeling in Einer.
An intriguing point is Gerda paints portraits, while Einer paints landscapes. This dichotomy is metaphorically interesting where Gerda knows people on the surface and Einer goes for an emotional connection, as landscapes tend to bring out an emotional response with the viewer.
Gerda and Einer are invited to a gathering and Einer doesn’t want to attend, for all the attention he would get from being an artist, and not wanting to have Gerda’s feelings hurt, who isn’t getting the artistic attention she deserves. Gerda suggests going in disguise, and from here Lili Elbe is born. There are quaint moments where Gerda helps Lili with her feminine comportment. Lili also strikes out on her own, aping the mannerisms of females in public and by going to peep shows to mimic those girls movements.
While at the gathering, Einer’s absence is explained away and Lili’s presence is equally explained. Gerda leaves Lili and she attracts the attention of Henrik(Ben Whishaw) who manipulates them to an isolated area. Henrik leans in to kiss Lili and Gerda witnesses this clumsy effort.
Gerda continues to paint portraits of Lili and these paintings receive accolades from an art collector. Gerda is persuaded to move to Paris, and she and Lili do. There, she continues to paint Lili. Lili’s childhood friend Hans Axgil(Matthias Schoenaerts) attends a show and expresses interest in her paintings. Gerda is put in a awkward position by having to continue to sell the rouse that Lili, Einer’s cousin, is not around.
When she and Hans return to her house, she is startled to see Lili, and has to concoct a contradictory statement. Hans questions who Lili really is, and Lili perfunctorily leaves the room. Hans suspects Einer/Lili is a transsexual.
I’VE REALLY ONLY LIKED A HANDFUL OF PEOPLE IN MY LIFE, AND YOU’RE DEFINITELY TWO OF THEM.
Hans tries to kiss Gerda while at an art show for her paintings of Lili. Gerda says she is still married to Einer, and this creates a love triangle between Hans and Gerda and Lili.
Ulla happens to be in Paris and tells Lili and Gerda of a doctor who is familiar with Lili’s condition and can help. Dr. Wernekos(Sebastian Koch) tells Lili and Gerda of how he met a man who said he should have been born a woman and before the planned surgery, he got scared and didn’t go through with it. Excited by the implications, Lili says she wouldn’t do that.
Before Lili leaves for Germany, for what will be the first sex reassignment surgery, Hans, says to Lili, “I’ve really only liked a handful of people in my life, and you’re definitely two of them.” This light humor illustrates the then foreign, and still current, misunderstanding of what is now known as transgender.
This surgery is as brutal on Lili as Dr. Wernekos warned. She has a lengthy recovery and there is an allusion to pain killer addiction, as Lili pops pills very close together and Gerda calls her on it, her love for Lili is genderless. Lili retorts that she knows what she is doing, which is ironic, as nothing like this has been done before.
After Lili’s first surgery, there is a definite departure of all things Einer. Lili sheds every connection to that life, she ceases to paint. She separates her and Gerda’s marital bed with a vertical sheet. Lili also goes to work in a department store as a perfume girl, a further departure from the artist life she lead prior to her transition.
Lili’s eagerness filliped her rationality, by having her final surgery too soon. Gerda pleads that it is too soon. Dr. Wernekos tells Gerda that there were complications and Lili is not doing well, her situation doesn’t look good. Towards the end, a weak, but blissful, Lili smiles and tells Gerda she is finally who she was meant to be.
mir, irini, peace, amn,
Some biographical inaccuracies: In the movie, Lili has two surgeries, when in reality, she underwent a total of five, including her final surgery to implant a uterus. Her impassioned desire for this procedure could in part be attributed to the amending marriage policies evolving in 1920’s Denmark, and her desire to validate her womanhood by giving birth.
Gerda went on to continue painting portraits of Lili long after her eventual death, which was not touched upon in the movie.
Some historically accurate elements: Lili is diagnosed by various medical professionals as suffering from either perversion, schizophrenia, homosexuality. All these diagnoses would have serious repercussions in 1920’s-1930’s Denmark’s transitioning laissez faire political and societal landscape to one of an intervening social and health policy structure, by institutionalizing her and preventing Lili(pre-transition) and Gerda from having a child.