Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Danish Girl

(UK, USA, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, 2015)

Before there was Christine Jorgensen, there was Lili Elbe … and that’s just about as far as the historical accuracy of this “Based on a True Story” movie goes. Well, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but what the movie was based on is a novel, that was “inspired” by the true story of Lili. Go to Wiki and the list of inaccuracies is quite long. (I was going to make a joke here about penises, but never mind.) So, never assume anything you see here is the straight dope. An important detail of the real story was that Lili may have been what we call these days “intersexed,” that is, with ambiguous genitalia. (Eddie Redmayne is not; we get an eyeful of his manhood in one scene.) She may have had Klinefelter syndrome, which means an XXY chromosome. This condition was not even known until 1942. She seems to have had no trouble passing for female. In fact, she was often mistaken for a girl in man’s clothes.

Other than things like that, though, if you take it as the story of the struggles of an early transsexual in the days before there even was such a known medical and/or psychological diagnosis, it is an excellent movie. Just realize it is a fictional imagination of someone in an almost hopeless situation.

Lili was born Einar Wegener, and seems to be happily married to Gerda. It is 1926. As a lark, they dress him up in women’s clothes and go to a gala reception. He loves it, and gets further and further into cross-dressing. Soon he becomes a split personality, believing that Lili is his true self, and is taking over Einar. This is okay with him. He wants it. But as you can imagine, it presents challenges for his wife. After many consultations with doctors, many of them little more than quacks, and one who comes for him with a straitjacket, he encounters Dr. Kurt Warnekros, who understands his plight and offers him a solution. Sex reassignment surgery (what we used to call “sex changing”) is incredibly risky in 1930. I’m not going to reveal the outcome of his two surgeries.

I liked this a lot. My one complaint has nothing at all to do with the movie. Redmayne was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar, lost to DiCaprio. And Alicia Vikander (who is not actually a Danish girl; she is a Swede) was up for Best Supporting Actress, and won. This is insane! Not that she won, I absolutely loved her, as I did in Ex Machina and {A Royal Affair,}} but that she qualified for supporting according to the Academy’s crazy rules. She has as much screen time as he does! In every way I can see, she was a co-star, with top billing.

Oh, well. What can you do?