Friday, 15 January 2016

'The Danish Girl' Review

This review WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS for the film to be discussed, if you do not want certain plot points and story spoilt for you please  do not read further.  

I've been very unsure about writing this article for a while now, I've been trying to put my thoughts about The Danish Girl into some kind of sense and struggling.  There are a lot of conflicting thoughts about this film, which might make this a little different from my other review pieces.

By now you'll all be aware that the story of The Danish Girl is that of Lili Elbe, a real life figure in trans history who became one of the first trans women to undergo gender realignment surgery, played by Eddie Redmayne.  

For some people, that straight away has been an issue with the film, the fact that a cis man has once again been cast to play the role of a trans woman.  Whilst some people might argue that in order for a film such as The Danish Girl to get made, or the attention it has received, the studio had to go with a cis actor, as using a trans actor would turn the studios off.

However, a little looking back into the history of the films production, a process that took ten years and about as many attempts, you will find that at one point Nicole Kidman was cast as Lili.  Breaking away from the standard man playing a trans woman trope Kidman would have been made up to look like a man in the pre-transition scenes, then present as herself during Lili's transition.

Personally I think that doing a transition story with cis actors this way would have been vastly better than casting men to play women, as it would help to reinforce to people that trans women are women, not just 'men in dresses' as some people would say.  The loss of this casting is a sore point for me, and I don't like the fact that a cis man is once again playing a trans woman.

That being said, Redmayne is a good actor, and plays the part he is given well enough I suppose, though I can't help but feel he got the part half down to his looks and half to the fact that he won an Oscar the year before.  The Danish Girl very much feels like a film made to earn an Oscar, rather than a film trying to tell Lili's story the right way.  

For me, and please bear in mind this is only my personal opinion based on my own experiences as a trans woman and transitioning, but the film made me feel very uncomfortable in some places.

The early parts of the film, where Lili is discovering who she really is feel like a story of forced feminisation written by someone who is only aware of the notion of trans people.  In these early parts of the film Lili seems to be more a creation of then Einar's wife Gerda, who dresses her up in women's clothing to model for her art.

Einar protests but is teased and bullied into it by his forceful wife.  The scenes that follow seem to focus on the clothing making Lili rather than any part of herself.  It's all about her touching silky dresses and stockings, with long shots of her focused on the way these clothes make her feel than anything else.

Einar is encouraged into dressing as Lili, a name given to her teasingly by their friend, and what follows is a montage of what plays out as Greta creating a female identity for her husband.  It all focuses on teaching him how to move like a woman, what to wear, how to do makeup, all orchestrated by Greta.

Like I said, this is only my opinion based on what I went through, but I never once experiences a 'thrill' from women's clothing, I never got excited running my hands over lave stockings and silk dresses.  Seeing it portrayed this way in the film just makes me feel a little uncomfortable, and it doesn't feel true to me.  

I know that this might not be true for everyone who transitions, it's just how I personally feel about it.

Coupled with a slow and at some points dull story it just leads to a film that left me bored, disinterested and waiting for the end.  Yes, the acting was okay, and the film looks pretty enough, but it just feels lacking something.  The problem is, I can't even describe what it might be lacking, because I don't know.  It just feels very flat and stretched thin, with no substance to it.

Do I think that The Danish Girl is a good film?  Not really.  It's not very exciting or engaging and left me feeling bored.  Does it feel like a film that represents trans people well?  Again, not really, not for me at least, though I understand that others disagree with that.  Will it win an Oscar?  Possibly, but then it  does feel like the film was made to win an Oscar more than anything else.

I'm sure not everyone will have as many problems with the film as I do, some people will even praise it for being a great film for the transgender community.  But it's not for me.


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