“I think Lily’s thoughts, I dream her dreams. She was always there.”
He swept the floor during this year’s award season thanks to his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, and 2016 looks set to be another triumph for Eddie Redmayne.
His turn as artist Einar Wegener, the first known person to undergo sex reassignment surgery to become Lili Elbe, is arguably one of the most raw, emotional performances of his career. While Theory has hints of humour throughout and the viewers know what to expect (after all, Hawking defined all odds and is still alive today), The Danish Girl sees Redmayne take on the biggest challenge of his life; acting as a female.
Einar is famed for his landscape paintings, while his wife and fellow artist Gerda is still trying to get her portrait work recognised by the big shots in Copenhagen. When a model drops out of posing for one of her paintings, Gerda turns to her husband for help in finishing the masterpiece – all he has to do is slip on some stockings and ballet shoes. The whole scenario proves amusing for Einer, but when he has to hold a dress up against himself, something inside stirs.
It’s clear this isn’t something new for the painter and when refusing to attend an artist’s ball held by his wife’s friend Oola (Amber Heard), Gerda suggests he goes in disguise to avoid attention.
Lili shall go to the ball! But little does Gerda know that this move will change her husband’s life forever, especially when their mutual friend Henrik (Ben Whishaw) goes in for a kiss with Lili. Soon Einar can’t be himself anymore as Lili has taken over: “I think Lily’s thoughts, I dream her dreams. She was always there.”
No one understands, and several doctors label him ‘insane’, so Gerda reaches out to Einar’s old friend Hans Axgil (Matthias Schoenaerts) for help after sensing something happened between the pair when they were younger. However it’s Oola who points the trio in the right direction when she suggests Einar visit women’s doctor Dr. Kurt Warnekros (Sebastian Koch), who is familiar with his situation having met a man suffering the same confusion before.
It’s a life-threatening series of surgeries that lie ahead for the artist, but his determination is strong and as he waves goodbye to his wife and friend at the train station before heading to Germany for the procedures, it’s hard not to well up.
Redmayne is as mind-blowing as always (Jupiter Ascending aside) and the much-talked about scene in which he tucks his manhood between his legs is done in a tasteful and natural way.
But arguably it’s Vikander’s performance which brings emotion to the whole tale as we witness her character make the biggest sacrifice of her life; letting her husband go forever, and living with Lili after her surgery. Her performance is effortless, despite it definitely being an emotional rollercoaster throughout filming.
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