The Danish Girl, Tom Hooper's portrait of Jazz Age painters Gerda Wegener and her spouse, Einar, who butterflied into Lili Elbe via the first sexual-assignment surgery, is about gender and it isn't. Like its subject, it's fatally resolved to fit an ideal: the noble Oscar-bait biopic. If the script swapped transsexuality for heroin addiction, the beats would scarcely change. There are secret jaunts, desperate doctor visits, pleas to change, and, finally, the slow, chilly acceptance that a partner simply can't. The film's about how love can endure even when the person you married vanishes. Reminiscing one night on their bed, now divided chastely in two by a sheet, Gerda (Alicia Vikander) smiles that it "wasn't so long ago we were married, you and me." "You and Einar," corrects Lili (Eddie Redmayne).
Redmayne plays Lili like a saint. Yet there's sedition in the script and a showdown for the film's soul as Vikander, the stronger actor of the two, forces us to witness how much her wife loses to give Lili life. I've seen it twice and I still can't figure out how Hooper feels about these characters. He at first presents this as a sort of horror story. Then there's Lili's exaggerated, simpering body language, all head-ducking and languid caresses, which she learns studying a peep-show stripper — someone playacting a faux femininity for men. Still, perversely, we can't help noticing that their marriage becomes increasingly hierarchical -- practically patriarchal -- with Lili forcing Gerda to submit to her terms. Gerda is ditched at dinners, abandoned at her art shows, and thrust into celibacy. No matter what the empathetic score might insist -- Lili can still act like a dick