The Danish Girl (2016) (Review)

Fresh from his Best Actor win at 2015's Academy Awards for his role as Stephen Hawkin in the Theory of Everything, Eddie Redmayne's next venture continues the fully-immersive character work to tell the story of Lili Elbe, one of the first known recipients of sex reassignment surgery and documented transsexual. Joined by Alicia Vikander and directed by Tom Hooper, the film aligned as one of the most promising films of the award season, picking up two nominations for its charming leads, but just how good is biographical drama about one of the most progressive scientific and social movements of all time?

The Danish Girl documents the gender realignment of Lili Elbe (Eddie Redmayne) who felt trapped in the body of Einar Wegener, an artist from mid-1920 Copenhagen. When his wife, Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander) asks her husband to step in for a no-show female model, a feeling is awakened within him as he slowly morphs and adapts the feminine traits that correspond with the new muse. As time goes on, Einar realises that Lili is the closest he has ever come to finding and accepting his true self and with support from his loving wife, progresses on the path of self-discovery and identity in the face of an unaccepting and unadapted society. Multiple barriers stand in the path to true happiness, but Lili is ready to face them all to correct the error in nature that is her body.

Without a doubt, the film would not be the success it is without the two enthralling leads. Eddie Redmayne depicts the physical and emotional transformation of this inspiration real-life figure that is in equal parts understated and precise. Each moment, movement and flicker is performed with necessity, taking the audience on the journey of self-discovery; we both see and feel this transformation with unequivocal certitude and authenticity. Redmayne embodies the two individuals - Elbe and Wegener - as they become one to a degree very few others could manage. He is undoubtedly compelling, similarly to Vikander; while her character is confused, unsure and uncertain how best to support her husband, what remains unwatered is her loyalty to him. Standing next to her husband throughout, despite being fully aware that things will never be the same again, is perfectly demonstrated by her near faultless, emotionally-charged and gripping performance that is as important, if not more, than Redmayne's character(s), for it also teaches the audience acceptance, integrity and sincerity. Redmayne and Vikander perfectly compliment each other and are truly the emotional heart of the film.

Thematically deep and full of heart, the narrative remains understated yet absorbing. We truly connect with these characters and their journey, together and apart; viewers are treated like adults in understanding what many still consider today a complex and testing issue, despite being in the 21st century. Its relevance in modern society today keeps the film feeling restrictive, as done so by a lack of creativity behind the lens. Visually, nothing is added to the film that its two leads don't already do and lacks the technicalities that make other releases stand out (noticeably, The Revenant, which I reviewed previously). Whist the Copenhagen and Parisian landscape are beautifully displayed, nothing exciting or new is evident - and whilst this is not always needed, its deeply frustrating to see such high talent in front of the camera weakened by those behind it. Les Miserables and The King's Speech proved Tom Hooper to be an effective director but he failed to translate any of that technicality into The Danish Girl, which is as frustrating as it is disappointing. It is also because of this that the film doesn't always reach the emotional heights that are required from a film of this subject matter and poignance to fully work.

The Danish Girl's strengths are very clearly the outstanding work of Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander (who is very much equal to Redmayne in importance, talent and soul, I'll have you know Academy) who each translate the abundance of emotions found within the real-life narrative for all to see and experience, blossoming before our ver eyes. Whilst it lacks artistry behind the camera, when the film is effective in its emotional execution, you cannot help by feel choked up and engrossed by the story of a woman who just wants to be herself - her true self. The ending, as heartbreaking but affirmative as it is, ends the film on a high note (that is until at least one of them pick up an Oscar next month) and you can't help but feel enlightened and informed.

Summary: The Danish Girl is poignant, heartbreaking and touching, elevated by captivating performances by its two leads, but only occasionally reaches the emotional heights it has the ability to, due to little ingenuity behind the camera.

Highlight: The final moments of the film are heartbreaking but affirmative, bringing about one of the most touching and stirring moments in cinema.