Wednesday, 20 January 2016

The Danish Girl (Spoiler Fest)

***Please don’t read if you don’t want spoilers***

Finally, after having waited for a very long time to watch it, I managed to get time to see the much hyped portrayal of the very brave Lili Elbe by Eddie Redmayne.  I managed to sneak off for a night last week, while working away, to get a few hours in the cinema.  I went on my own, which I regularly do, I have no issue with doing that.  Well I thought I didn’t, until I realised that I was the only ‘man’ there on 'his' own.  Lots of groups of women came in together with the odd forlorn looking guy who clearly had been dragged along by his wife and/or daughter!  Disappointingly (or encouragingly) depending on how you look at it, there were no obviously trans people there.  Once it started though, it was all good and I settled down.

As you can imagine, I was paying attention to their reactions to the film.  The first time Lili ‘dressed’, my heart was in my throat.  If I’m honest, I didn’t want her to do it.  My reaction surprised me.  People really liked ‘him’ by this point and I was worried it would mean they would go off him.  There was a little bit of embarrassed laughter when he emerged but they quickly recovered.  The other point that caused consternation was the first time Lili kissed a man.  At that point, an almost outraged gasp was audible.  I suspect it was because he was being unfaithful to his wife.  After that, there was nothing by almost reverential silence, they were transfixed and you could almost feel a palpable togetherness in the room which was really encouraging.

I really like Eddie Redmayne.  On the Sunday before I watched TDG, oddly, I’d watched ‘The Theory of Everything’ for the first time too. He really does have a very enigmatic personality and a screen presence and a dazzling smile that you just can’t help loving.  Overall, as you are about to see, I have very mixed views of the film.  But the thing that has to be acknowledged is that he is one gutsy guy and that he took some very brave steps as an actor to play the part.  There were some scenes that really pushed him a long way and I think he did it well.  Trans people know how hard it is to step outside your door - our own judgements of ourselves are bad enough, let alone others.

So in watching it, several things struck me that I thought were interesting:

The first thing that interested me, really surprised me.  There is a debate that rages on about the film industry trying harder to hire trans actors for trans roles.  Before watching the film, I didn’t really feel that strongly about it.  I now do.  He is a genuinely fantastic actor, but it really felt like he was battling his heterosexual, cis-normative natural reactions to play this role.  Someone who is trans, spends years observing women and trying to emulate their mannerisms and behaviours.  This is often to the point where you hear people saying that they have forgotten how to be a man.  It becomes so ingrained in you that you know how to improvise in every situation and circumstance so that the presentation is almost perfect.  Eddie doesn’t have that advantage and so his look was practically perfect, but at times, his mannerism and behaviour weren’t quite there and seemed very mannish.  I guess, you could argue that the story is an evolving journey and that Lili would have been developing this, but the issue is that it just jarred.  When I watched ‘Boy Meets Girl’ (the TV programme) with Rebecca Root, that didn’t happen.  She reacted in the way a woman does, she didn’t feel like a man playing a woman.  The same was true of the very fantastic Michelle Hendley in ‘Boy Meets Girl’ (the film).  Every reaction felt authentic.  There is something about them genuinely being women that they didn’t know how to play men. When Eddie reached a point where he didn’t know how to react or play it, he reverted to playing it as a man would think a woman would behave.  So there was lots of eye lash batting, primping and preening that just seemed forced. I’ve listened to an interview with Eddie where he discussed this and he was so lovely and said that he was trying to show Lili’s 'adolescence' by being over the top and demonstrating uberfeminisation, but I’m not sure it worked really.

Hats off to the script writer, some of Lili’s experiences definitely mirrored my own.  The idea of trying to break her wife into the idea of her ‘husband’ being a woman gently was something that definitely chimed with me.  I hate to admit it, but I put on underwear under my clothes hoping my wife (then girlfriend) would discover it and find out.  Lili also pretended that it was a game she played.  When I told another girlfriend, I told her it was just something we should do for fun sometimes.  Even though inside I knew its something I needed to do all the time.  They also, later on in the film, captured the torment and desperation of feeling like this very well.  They also had me desperate to stand up in the cinema and shout at the various Doctors who diagnosed her transgendered nature and forced her into dangerous quack solutions.  There was definitely a lot that was good about it.

As we have already established on this blog, I am a complete cry baby, I ball my eyes out at pretty much everything.  But I walked away from the cinema numb rather than having sobbed because of my empathy with Lili.  The film worked much harder (maybe because she was the stand out star of the show) to push our sympathy towards Gerta, Lili’s hard-done-by-but-ever-so-faithful wife.  Gerta was the strong one who fought and Lili was a little pathetic, self-centred, flouncy one who seemed like she had a split personality.  I think that ultimately it was my inability to connect to Lili that really made me struggle with the film.  I wanted it to be good so much and in many ways it was, but just not from a trans perspective.  Where I suspect it will earn plaudits is in being a cog in the wheel of helping non-trans people to understand our experience a little bit more.

11 comments:

  1. Interesting analysis Rhi, haven’t seen the film yet will not get the chance either until it appears on DVD so I can have a private viewing sometime (worse case). Will have to see how MrsA thinks about it. The trailer was on the box and there was no comment afterwards from her, so I don’t think she’s interested like I am.
    No spoiler Rhi, her life is documented well enough in the net and journals.
    Abigale xx

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    1. Definitely worth watching and heartbreaking, but I suspect you'll feel a little mixed about it. Hope you get to watch it soon - apparently DVD release is on 1st March. x

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  2. I went and saw it at the beginning of the year. Like you I found that the audience was mainly women with the occasional man.

    There were bits in there that I could relate to and I did cry at the end.

    Artistically it is a fabulous film.

    Some people have said the script was something that they could have found on some FemDom story sites. I can see that to some point. It does seem to hint at some points that the clothes were very important to Lili. Something that isn't unheard of when you are figuring out about yourself.

    Eddie Redmayne is definitely a talented actor, I watched Jupiter Ascending over the weekend and he is very good in that. Theory of Everything will be on my list of things to watch.

    Although it would have been nice to see a trans actress in the role I'm not sure that they would have been as good. As you point out a lot of us observe and copy women as closely as possible so that we blend in. I think that this might have been a case where someone who has spent all that time doing that might not have been as convincing as a man.

    I'm looking forward to it coming out on DVD as I'll be getting it so that I can sit down and watch it with both a more critical eye and also just for purely entertainment purposes.

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    1. Hi Jenna, thank you for commenting - I always read your blog and find it really helpful.

      I did mean to mention that point that artistically it was so beautiful - just mouth water pictures. If you like that, I've just finished watching Mike Leigh's Turner film and that was equally amazing.

      It is an interesting point about the trans actresses and in some ways, aside from whether they would be good enough, is more whether the film would be made sadly. Eddie Redmayne, in the interview, said that he was offered it years ago, but with him in the lead, Tom Hooper couldn't raise the funds. It is only with the success he has had in the last couple of years that they were able to get the money. I do think there are some trans actresses who are getting really good - I did love Michelle Hendley. But I guess the problem is a circular one - until they can get the parts and improve / show how good they are, they can't get other parts and to show they can carry it off as well as Eddie. That said, he is just spectacular and to have someone of his skill and stature take an interest in communicating our message is fantastic! x

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    2. Totally agree. He seems to be doing what he can to get things across to people.

      I've not seen Turner, caught the odd clip. I'll probably wait until I spot it on TV, does look like it has a good cast though.

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  3. It's certainly a film people form a definite opinion about! I take your point about the pro-Gerda bias, and I did find myself identifying with her more strongly than with Lili.

    Lucy

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    1. Thank you Lucy :o) I read your blog on it and agree that the love story element was great, that's why the, "I want my husband" line was probably the most heartbreaking line and exchange of the whole film: a real turning point.

      I loved your latest landscape photos by the way - some great shots! xxx

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  4. It's certainly a film people form a definite opinion about! I take your point about the pro-Gerda bias, and I did find myself identifying with her more strongly than with Lili.

    Lucy

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  5. My heart is usually n the side of Trans actors who lets face it need the work. In this case so much of the film is early and pre transition that a slim male figure did fit the role. Perhaps so much trying to copy feminine ways was a filmic story telling trait, we know that anyone who has been desperate to change would have been observing for years. Once you start reading Lili's "Man into Woman" book, cheap as ebook, the story has more complications than you might have gathered from years of snippets drifting round the net. It would appear that she was intersex and underwent "five" operations. Sadly over ambition to be a fifty year old mother lead to her death by attempting a womb transplant before problems were fully understood. It was a hurried end to the film so it was not made clear that she only had 14 months from the end of the first operation. Who knows what her fate would have been had she lived into the German occupation of Europe soon afterwards...

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    1. That is a really good point actually - I'd not thought of it. I guess, I've seen trans actors successful when they have been trans throughout. It would probably actually be quite traumatic for some to have to try to go back to play the 'male' part. I have read a little bit more detail of Lili's story and have bought the book, but not read it yet. When I read the womb fact, I was shocked - I know it is now being tried and accomplished just about, but not sure what made them think they could achieve it back then. I actually found that part of the dialogue confusing in the film because I was trying to relate it to modern procedures and was confused as to why they did two ops and in the way they did it. But I guess they were also just trying to learn at the time too. x

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