Dec 11

“The Danish Girl”: The First Transgender Surgery

Tom Hooper‘s new film The Danish Girl is based on David Ebershoffs 2000 novel about the lives of artist Gerda Wegener and her transgender artist spouse Einar, who became Lili Elbe in the 1920’s and 30’s. Although a fictionalized account, the book was based on Wegener’s actual diaries.

Not all would agree, but Rex Reed, New York Observer, calls Eddie Redmayne‘s role as Lili “the performance of the year” and further states, “Lucinda Coxon’s beautifully collated screenplay…tackles a complex subject with dignity and respect, leaving nothing out. In the process, you will learn more about gender crisis than you ever thought possible.”

Reed adds that The Danish Girl is “about the first known case of transgender surgery recorded in medical history.” More about the plot:

It’s 1926 in Copenhagen and Einar is a painter of landscapes on the verge of success, and the passionate and actively heterosexual husband of a beautiful fellow artist named Gerda (Alicia Vikander), who specializes in portraits. Then everything is altered dramatically the first time he poses as a favor for Gerda while she’s waiting for her model to arrive. Reluctantly, he dons silk stockings and matching pumps, and his embarrassment slowly turns to a confusing confrontation with feelings he’s repressed since childhood. The unexpected ecstasy in Mr. Redmayne’s face of the way the fabric feels to his touch is a clue to things to come.
You experience firsthand the challenges transgendered people endured nearly a century ago and still experience today—brutal physical examinations, homophobic violence, specialists who prescribe primitive medical experiments like penis radiation and drill holes into the brain to cure what they erroneously diagnose as schizophrenia. Einar loves Gerda, but the only way he feels fulfilled is to live with her as Lili…

The Trailer

Portrayal of Trans Issues

Jase Peeples, The Advocate:

Redmayne spent months preparing for his role by doing what he believes is essential for every ally: listening to trans people share their experiences. He credits the many people who generously shared stories with informing the choices he made bringing Elbe to life. ‘One woman talked about when she was transitioning, this period that she called hyper-feminization. A time when you start investigating using makeup, but you use too much or the clothes you choose — you’re going to extremes. She described it as sort of being like a teenage girl’s adolescence when you’re trying things, you’re finding things, and discovering things. That was important to me to bring to my performance.’

Dana Stevens, Slate: “In the early days of Einar’s transformation, Redmayne conveys the degree to which gender is, for all of us, a skill acquired through observation and imitation. Observing a pretty girl through the glass at a Paris peep show, Einar longs not to possess her but to be her, and the quiet moment that passes between them when she sees him copying her gestures makes for one of the movie’s best scenes.”

Peter Debruge, Variety: “At one point, reunited with boyhood friend Hans (Matthias Schoenaerts), he admits that he has considered suicide, but held back because he understood he would be killing Lili at the same time — a sentiment that all too many trans people share and one of the many reasons such a well-rounded portrayal is long overdue.”

Selected Reviews of The Danish Girl

David Lewis, San Francisco Chronicle: “Hooper’s strategy of keeping it safe is bound to bring in folks who might otherwise avoid such material. For the rest of us, we must settle for a film that is solid, but never quite soars.”

Alonso Duralde, The Wrap: “For all its period setting and opulence, ‘The Danish Girl’ is less removed from our own era than you might think; the physical violence and medical ignorance that Lili faces over the course of her evolution remain in place today. And while this film should by no means be the last word on an under-explored subject in mainstream cinema, it makes an interesting guidepost toward bolder stories in the future.”

Dana Stevens, Slate, reflecting on the existing controversy over actor selection: “If we can just get some of those groundbreaking roles—and maybe even those shiny gold statues—into the hands of lesbian, gay, and transgender actors, the battle against shame will be that much closer to being won.”

Dec 10

“The Theory of Everything” (All That in One Movie?)

There should be no boundaries to human endeavor. We are all different. However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. While there’s life, there is hope. Stephen Hawking, The Theory of Everything

Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones star in the newly released The Theory of Everything. Isn’t it kinda ironic, though, that the IMDB can sum it up ( I mean, it’s the theory of EVERYTHING!) in just a few words? “A look at the relationship between the famous physicist Stephen Hawking and his wife.”

Rex Reed, New York Observer, is hardly alone in his rave reviews of Redmayne’s role, calling it “the most electrifying performance of the year.” And someone was also bound to say this: “Eddie Redmayne knocks it straight out of the universe” (Lou Lumenick, New York Post).

Many, however, also go out of their way to add kudos for Jones, whom Ann Hornaday, Washington Post, says “…deserves just as much credit for her less showy but more technically tricky portrayal of a woman who, far from being a traditional self-sacrificing helpmate, is trying to reconcile her Christian conscience and conjugal devotion with her own academic career and evolving physical and spiritual needs.”

What kind of theories will you learn?

Ty Burr, Boston Globe:

Don’t come to ‘The Theory of Everything’ for the science — there isn’t any. At least, not enough to reasonably sustain a two-hour film about the most celebrated theoretical physicist of our time. Anyway, black holes and dark stars aren’t why we’re interested in Stephen Hawking. We’re drawn by the paradox of that big brain in that ruined body, by the tenacity it takes to turn the death sentence of ALS into a long and illustrious career…

If not theories, then what?

Based on ‘Traveling to Infinity: My Life With Stephen,’ a 2007 memoir by the physicist’s first wife, Jane, ‘Theory’ is a love story and then a falling-out-of-love story.

How much of the film is really true? 

Hawking himself says it’s “broadly true.”

Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle, about scriptwriter Anthony McCarten: “[He] …doesn’t enslave himself to specific facts. Jane is strengthened, Hawking is softened and incidents are dramatized, and yet everything is the service of emphasizing the basic truths. ‘The Theory of Everything’ doesn’t shy away from depicting the horrors of Hawking’s illness, nor the strains that it put on his marriage.”

Peter Howell, Toronto Star: “This is sheer poppycock, of course, but it makes for fine drama, and that’s all Cupid and Oscar care about.”

Michelle Dean, The Guardiansays it’s all too simplistic and “diverges so much from its source it seems dishonest.”

To learn more about what’s factual and what’s not, consider this article at Slate.

Stephen Hawking

The theme of time is paramount. Not only did Hawking eventually write the renowned A Brief History of Time, it’s also made clear that time is so of the essence in his personal life. Adds J.R. Jones, Chicago Reader: “For all the scientific rhetoric about the nature of time, what matters most here is how it forges, and then tests, the bond between two people.”

An apt summary of the man from Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle:

Though something sneaky and devious comes across in Hawking — this giant, all-seeing brain attached to a shriveled stalk — he becomes a heroic figure, in a completely earned and unfussy way. Just as he tried, as a young man, to think himself beyond the world, beyond the solar system and beyond the galaxy, as a sick man he tries to think himself beyond his body and project his mind out into the universe.

What a mismatch: All the mysteries of creation versus a single man, with not only one hand tied behind his back, but two arms, two legs and a torso. And yet Hawking has remained game for the fight. What could be more resilient or laudable?

Selected Reviews

Justin Chang, Variety: “A stirring and bittersweet love story, inflected with tasteful good humor…”

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: “’The Theory of Everything’ achieves its uplift by acknowledging that uplift isn’t always possible, at least in the strictest sense: It’s an exceptional film, not because of its protagonists’ impressive triumphs, but because it honors their struggle.”

Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune: “It works best as a study of human vulnerability and love’s way with us all, and as such, a handsomely mounted, slightly hollow picture by the end becomes a very affecting one.”