Opening the film is a marriage of two artists, Einar and Gerda in an apartment filled with paints and paintings in the Danish city of Copenhagen in the early years of the twentieth century. While wife Gerda is an illustrator of magazines like Vogue or La vie parisien, Einar’s strength are landscapes. The artist couple seem completely congenial at first , but a tumultuous journey lies ahead.
One day Gerda’s model doesn’t turn up, lagging behind in her work she asks Einar to wear stockings and high heels so she can complete her painting. The revival of Einar’s ladylike emotions start from the moment Einar touches the stockings and white dress and Lili is born.Einar and Gerda initially only see this as a game, they created Lili, a woman, which is essentially Einar in dress and makeup. But over time, the sense of wanting to become a woman is clear and overwhelming for Einar, it is no longer a game in disguise that Gerda had created.
The story is complex with several layers. It is the tale of Einar, an artist, shy and serious, Lili within the same body, frivolous and superficial, who did not want to paint and Gerda who is selfless, brave and whose love for her husband, traps her between the two conflicting personalities of Einar and Lili. A story that takes us to see the limits of love and authenticity. Two people worthy of admiration.
A story of courage, first known person to face a gender change operation, Lili’s, courageous battle against a guerilla of doctors who had her pinned down as a patient suffering from a range of mental illnesses. Matching her stride to stride is Gerda, who loves her husband deeply and is supportive of his decision at every step, even when he decides to kill himself so Lili can live.
The director does a good job of portraying Einar, Lili and Gerda’s mental state of mind in scenes like when one day Gerda returns home to see Einar physically but his feminine posture makes it evident that it’s really Lili inside. The sheer brilliance of the scene breaks your heart and makes the helplessness of the characters palpable. Bravery, grief, extra-ordinary sacrificial love, joy, a sense of the tragic and of turmoil all tumble into the mix. The empathy and the pioneering spirit of the surgeon paves a path for hope in the future.
But the director misses out on certain issues that should have been explored with more depth like Gerda’s ambivalent sexuality. Was she a bisexual and that is why continued being sexually active with Lili? What exactly was the correlation between Lili’s transition and her artistic career. Does becoming a woman overpower her urge to paint, is it that simple and easy to just stop doing something so abruptly? It was Einar’s profession for crying out loud. What was the pioneer nature of Lili’s surgery? If you are making a movie on the first recorded sex change operation at least explain the procedure well in detail rather than the amateurish way in the movie. Lastly the director could have highlighted the liberating effect of Paris on Lili. Paris in the 1920’s was much more open than the rest of the world, it was the age of the Expatriate movement, the age of Bohemian culture. This was one of the reasons Gerda, Einar and Lili moved to Paris.
Watching Eddie Redmayne act in the movie is a delight. He portrayed both characters with precision and expressed each emotion with absolute finesse. Alicia Vikander was perfect with every line and every emotion. Both of them were mesmerising and the photography stunning in Copenhagen, Dresden and Paris. Alexandre Desplat has provided a good background score. Overall the movie is good with flashes of brilliance.