Though I had just finished the disappointing read of The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff, I did not let that deter me from looking forward to the film starring Eddie Redmayne as Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe. Einar Wegener was a famous Danish painter who underwent one of the first gender reassignment surgeries in history. Einar had undergone surgeries and legally became Lili Elbe, though later died due to complications of one of her final surgeries.
If you read my book review you know I did not care for the story and had issue with how the story unraveled. In one respect I was pleased to see that the film version took liberties and changed much of the story, specifically that of Greta. Greta’s story is greatly cut back letting the real story of Einar take the lead which is what we wanted to begin with. With only a few minutes of the film gone by I was already beginning to bristle and wonder what was going on. The story written by David Eberschoff portrayed the relationship between Einar and Greta as rather non-sexual with Greta being the more aggressive figure and really pushing the character of Lili onto Einar. The true story behind the characters gives more of the impression of two friends who marry and live a free artistic party life. One could consider that perhaps Gerda was bisexual or a lesbian and knew of Einar’s potential transgender qualities, and the same said of Einar. The film version creates an even more confusing portrayal of a man and woman who are happily married, in love and very sexual. Einar goes from being your average charming husband, to cross dressing homosexual and lastly, perhaps very little, into the true transgender form. Greta really pushed the character of Lili onto Einar in the novel version, while in the film version Greta is adamantly opposed to Einar’s interest in woman’s clothing, and ultimately men, and the change to Lili. In the end she seems to come to terms with who her husband truly is, while exploring her relationship with another man, only it is too late. Lili dies from complications of her surgeries which was a more obvious in your face and visual death in comparison to the novel. This scene may have been the only real emotion in the entire film, but even then it withered swiftly. I imagine it would have been slightly more clear to me had I read the novel, but listening to the audiobook we were simply there with Lili in Dresden for her surgery, then suddenly we were escaping out into the park with two relatively minor characters, there is a mention of a scarf, the two characters run away and suddenly the story is over. I knew that Lili had died of complications from surgeries so could only assume this was some sort of poetic way to end Lili’s life and the story.
Eddie Redmayne is a rather strange individual to begin with, but he is endearing in both roles as Einar and Lili which is perhaps the only saving grace in the film. Alicia Vikander’s portrayal of Gerda Wegener, while talented and beautiful, shows her to be the victim in this tale of a woman whose vile husband goes parading around in women’s clothing, skulking around in dark corners with other men and destroying their relationship and their marriage by being selfish and ultimately putting the final nails in the coffin by embarrassing her by becoming a woman then going and dying. This portrayal couldn’t be further from the truth but very much borderlines on a hypocritical religious ranters version of a victimized woman abandoned by her sinful husband. Yet another confusing depiction between novel, film and real life that leaves us scratching our heads and wondering where one penis begins and another vagina ends.
In the end I am neither pleased with the book or the film version of the story. Both are conflicting and confusing and don’t really paint a clear picture of either Einar/Lili or Greta/Gerda and seriously lack passion and emotion. I feel as though there was a vast amount of potential lost on both characters and sad that it had to end the way that it did.