The Danish Girl: Redmayne searches for a sense of self

Without saying a word, the man’s eyes suggest layers of thought that fill his mind, as if so much goes on in his head he can’t keep it all organized. As he looks around a room he notices too much, wants to connect with so many, imagines all the people he could be. And though he roots himself in a relationship of trust and freedom, he soon realizes that his sense of self may inspire him to veer far off the conventional path.

As a man who chooses to undergo gender reassignment surgery, Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne follows up his award-winning portrayal of Stephen Hawking with an equally detailed examination of conflicting desires. This meticulous actor uses every technique in his reach to reveal the complexity of gender assignment as he creates an individual deeply in touch with his feelings yet fearful of where they may lead. The performance is a triumph for an actor who, with each performance, demonstrates a chameleon’s gift to fit into many situations. Redmayne the actor makes us believe in Einar Wegener the person who just wants to feel at home.

No matter the precision of Redmayne’s portrayal, The Danish Girl is more than a one-person show. Yes, Einar’s journey frames the narrative. But the other person in this drama – Einar’s wife Gerda brilliantly created by Oscar nominee Alicia Vikander – gives the movie its energy. While Redmayne’s progression can be predicted with his mastery of suggestive gestures, Vikander surprises in every sequence, making Gerda a fascinating mix of love, anger, resentment and longing. Her reactions to his crisis lift the movie from its lush surroundings to create a fascinating look at how a relationship can withstand challenge. With each gesture and glance, the actress lets us see inside a woman who wants to believe in the freedom she grants even as her husband’s choices force her to reinvent herself.

For director Tom Hooper, who won an Oscar for The King’s Speech, the film offers another opportunity for the lush moviemaking he favors. Each situation is perfectly staged, each sequence carefully arranged, each setting richly imagined. With Alexandre Desplat’s dramatic music in the background, and Paco Delgado’s glorious costumes outfitting the characters, Hooper creates a beautiful world where anyone deserves to live happily ever after.

But the director’s vision may, ultimately, undermine the challenge of the content. This environment is so appealing that its look may suggest that Einar’s path is conventional simply because it looks and sounds so good. A darker, grittier view of this situation, and the central relationship it changes, may have been a less attractive but more authentic. Because Hooper chooses to dress the film in lavish style, the visuals threaten to dilute the power of a woman’s unselfish choice to her let the man in her life follow his destiny. If only Hooper had trusted the meaning of the words more and relied less on his talents to make a movie look good.

Despite its look, The Danish Girl makes a strong contribution to the conversation about gender issues. At a time when, thankfully, the world becomes more transparent, the movie reminds us how far the discussion must yet travel. As much as people change over time, the challenge of some issues remains. The Danish Girl helps us understand the journey even if it looks too good for its own good.

The Danish Girl

  • Content: High. Tom Hooper’s examination of a man who chooses gender reassignment surgery presents contemporary issues in a classic setting.

  • Entertainment: Medium. Thanks to strong performances, the characters come to life. But they are trapped in lush settings that undermine the content.

  • Message: High. No matter the overdone production values, the message of tolerance and understanding comes through.

  • Relevance: High. Any opportunity to talk about these issues with older teenagers can be meaningful.

  • Opportunity for Dialogue: High. After you share this film with your older teenagers, talk about what it would take for someone to make these choices or offer support.

(The Danish Girl is rated R for some sexuality and nudity. The film runs 119 minutes.) 4 Popcorn Buckets

How Eddie Redmayne Could Win A Second Oscar (in a Row) 

With a Best Actor Oscar nomination for The Danish Girl, Eddie Redmayne could enter an exclusive Hollywood club: Actors who win Academy Awards two years in a row. Yes, Redmayne was named Best Actor a year ago for The Theory of Everything. And, yes, his performance this year as Einar Wegener impresses with its depth and precision. But it’s no easy feat to win back-to-back acting awards.

Luise Rainer became the first performer to win two Oscars in a row when she was named Best Actress in 1936 and 1937. Her first win – for a relatively short performance as Anna Held in the lavish musical The Great Ziegfeld – demonstrated her flair for comedy. A year later, her turn as O-Lan in the film version of Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth revealed the dramatic side of her talent. When she won her second Oscar, however, her career took an immediate dive, and she soon left Hollywood after fearing she would disappoint. Oscar observers started to wonder if winning a second Academy Award brought a curse.

If such a curse existed, Spencer Tracy was immune. A year after receiving his first Oscar nomination (for San Francisco) he won his first Best Actor award in 1937 for his colorful portrayal of a Portuguese sailor in Captains Courageous. A year later he repeated the honor for his contrasting performance as a gentle priest in Boys’ Town. As his career continued to soar he never showed signs of falling victim to a curse. Tracy later secured additional Oscar nominations for Father of the Bride, Bad Day at Black Rock, The Old Man and the Sea, Inherit the Wind, Judgment at Nuremberg and, posthumously, for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

Tracy’s life partner and frequent costar, Katharine Hepburn, is also a member of the exclusive back-to-back club. Many years after winning her first Oscar (for Morning Glory in the early 1930s) Hepburn won her second Best Actress award in 1967 for playing a happily married wife and mother – for the first time in her career – in the landmark look at interracial marriage Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. A year later she scored a stunning victory by being named Best Actress for playing a queen in The Lion in Winter, an Oscar she shared in a tie with Barbra Streisand for Funny Girl. And Hepburn wasn’t finished. She won her fourth Oscar in 1982 for On Golden Pond.

The great stage actor Jason Robards delivered many strong performances on film over the years including two for which he won Academy Awards. In 1977 he was named Best Supporting Actor for replicating Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee in the classic Watergate thriller All the President’s Men. That year he was expected to win. But he was a surprise victor a year later for his short role as author Dashiell Hammett in Julia with Jane Fonda as playwright Lillian Hellman. And in 1981 he was in the mix again with a Supporting Actor nomination as Howard Hughes in the fantasy Melvin and Howard.

Tom Hanks is Oscar’s most recent back-to-back winner of acting awards. After receiving his first Oscar nod for Big in 1988, he won his first Best Actor honor for his heartbreaking portrayal of a man fighting AIDS in the groundbreaking Philadelphia in 1993. A year later he walked to the stage again for a touching turn as the lead character in Forrest Gump. Hanks continues to shine on screen with additional Oscar nominations for Saving Private Ryan and Cast Away and a stirring performance in this year’s Bridge of Spies for which many thought he might make it into the Best Actor race.

Other Oscar categories, in addition to acting honors, boast back-to-back winners. John Ford was named Best Director in 1940 and 1941, for The Grapes of Wrath and How Green Was My Valley, and Joseph L. Mankiewicz repeated the feat in 1949 and 1950, for A Letter to Three Wives and All About Eve. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu could join this exclusive club this year if he wins for The Revenant. Screenwriter Robert Bolt won two writing awards in a row, for adapting Doctor Zhivago in 1965 and A Man for All Seasons in 1966.

Music brings out more repeat winners than any other branch of the Academy. Movie music man Roger Edens actually won three Oscars in a row for scoring Easter Parade, On the Town and Annie Get Your Gun in 1948, 1949 and 1950. Franz Waxman won for scoring Sunset Boulevard (1950) and A Place in the Sun (1951) as did Alfred Newman for the musicals With a Song in My Heart (1952) and Call Me Madam (1953). Henry Mancini won back-to-back Oscars for Best Song for Moon River (1961) and Days of Wine and Roses (1962), Andre Previn won for scoring Irma La Douce (1963) and My Fair Lady (1964), and Leonard Rosenman won for Barry Lyndon (1975) and Bound for Glory (1976). More recently, Alan Menken won for the scores of Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin in 1991 and 1992, and Gustavo Santaolalla won for Brokeback Mountain and Babel in 2005 and 2006.

So, if Eddie Redmayne would repeat, well, he would be in excellent company.

See you at the movies.