‘The Danish Girl’ recounts queer historical representation

By Marilyn MacLaren, STAFF WRITER

Directed by Tom Hooper, “The Danish Girl,” a biopic drama that follows Eddie Redmayne as Einar Wegener, a talented painter who gradually accepts her true self as Lili, a transgender woman. Ever supported by his loving wife and partner Gerda, played by Alicia Vikander, Lili learns to navigate her life against all odds when becoming the woman she was meant to be.

Based on a true story, the film details the life of Lili Elbe, a successful Danish painter and one of the first trans women to undergo sex reassignment surgery. Her wife and partner, Gerda Wegener, is also highlighted in the film for the role she played in Lili’s transition with unconditional love and support. 

Unfortunately, Lili passed away due to complications from her final surgery, a uterus transplant, in order to have her own children. Through this film, as well as the book by David Ebershoff, the legacy of Lili lives on because of the bravery and perseverance in which she had to live her life — without fear or shame of who she truly was.

The film also stars Matthias Schoenaerts as Hans Axgil, an art dealer and old friend of Einar who wants to help Gerda cope with the changes of her husband’s transition into Lili. The history between Hans and Einar during their youth is briefly touched upon in the film, but it’s admitted by Lili that her feelings concerning Hans, as well as her female persona, have always been there since she was young. 

This layer to Lili as a character gives insight to how much she has been repressed by being Einar due to the society she lived in. Seeing how Einar finally has the opportunity to fully express Lili as a stand-in model for his wife’s paintings, she refuses to go back to the way she was before, living her life openly as a transgender woman.

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

The dynamic between Gerda and Einar as he becomes Lili is heartbreaking to watch, yet endearing, as their relationship evolves to support Lili and her journey of self-acceptance. Vikander captures the personal growth of Gerda, who at first is not understanding of Einar’s need to become Lili. She then becomes fully accepting of her, staying with Lili until the very end.

Vikander portrays her initial desperation of this disconnect in a scene where she begs Lili that she needs to be with her husband, to where Lili apologizes, afraid she can no longer be him. To Einar, Lili is a distinct identity separated from himself, and being true to Lili is a concept that Gerda learns to embrace, loving Lili for who she is.

The way Redmayne embodies the character of both Einar and Lili shows the internal struggle between both identities and which would be the right choice. As Einar, Redmayne exhibits small moments of freedom where Lili is present, such as dressing in and admiring feminine clothing, as well as adopting her as less of a caricature to paint and more of who she truly is. 

As Lili, Redmayne shows how she weighs the pain of Gerda losing her husband to her own happiness as a transgender woman, forming a strong bond between the two characters as she embarks on the efforts to truly be herself.  


[email protected]