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Monday, December 14, 2015

The Danish Girl: Trans History 101

Posted By on Mon, Dec 14, 2015 at 12:00 PM

click to enlarge the-danish-girl.jpg

Tom Hooper's The Danish Girl is now playing at Embarcadero Center Cinema. The film is a must-see for members of the transgender community, their loved ones, supporters and friends. 

Oscar-winner Hooper directs fellow Academy Award-winner Eddie Redmayne as Lili Elbe, who in 1930 might have been the very first person to undergo sex reassignment surgery. The auteur and his star had previously worked together on Les Miserables. 

Elbe (1882-1931) was born Einar Magnus Andreas Wegener in Denmark, marrying fellow artist Gerda Gottlieb in 1904. The couple was happy for a time, and Wegener enjoyed a career as a successful and acclaimed artist. 

One day Wegener posed in woman's clothing for another artist. He felt unusually comfortable in female attire: The experience made him realize that he was in actuality a woman. The Danish Girl chronicles his journey to become Lili. In reconciling his true identity, Lili also had to come to terms with her marriage to Gottlieb.

It's a heartwarming story. Though their relationship becomes platonic, the love shared by Elbe and Gottlieb never dies. Gottlieb is mourning the loss of her husband, yet she stands by Lili's side. Their love for each other remains as strong as ever.

Redmayne's performance is extraordinary. As Einar he's a loving and attentive husband, but as Lili the actor is transformed. The man disappears, and a woman emerges. Not only does Redmayne capture Lili's feminine body language, he actually looks as though he were a biologically born female. The actor wonderfully convey's Einar's frustration at realizing he was born in the wrong body, and Lili's nervous first steps out into society.

When Lili gets a job as a shopgirl, Redmayne lets us feel Lili's joy. She's finally living life as her true self.

The film is a far cry from Les Miz. It's also quite a change of pace from Hooper's previous film The King's Speech, for which he won his Oscar. 

"I fell in love with this incredible script," Hooper told SF Weekly. "I'd been talking about how hard it is to find great scripts." 

The auteur described what he was trying to convey through Elbe's and Gottlieb's stories. "It's a great love story, a marriage going through a profound change," he said. "Sometimes your partner can be different from when you first started out. The film examines a great example of that."

Hooper heaped praise upon Redmayne and his performance. "He's one of the great gifted actors of his generation," Hooper said. "I thought he was so perfect — Eddie is always up to the challenge—he was fascinated with exploring his feminine side.His gift is that he makes you understand every beat of the journey — every beat is accessible. The audience will go with him on that journey." 

Hooper recalled his Oscar win. "I was lucky that I was young enough for my parents to be there," he said. "Suddenly I was the kid who won."

He drew comparisons between his Oscar acceptance speech and The King's Speech real life former King George VI, who had to overcome a speech impediment in order to address his subjects. "The film is about a fear of speaking in public," the director said. "I had to speak in public. It's unbelievably stressful when you have to give a speech before one billion people." 

Time will tell if The Danish Girl will find its way to Oscar. Whether or not it does, Hooper noted the changes in society which made it possibly for the film to be made and for Elbe's story to be told.

"It's great that the culture is moving forward," he said.                          

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