Stunning performances by Redmayne and Vikander.
Redmayne conquers another complex transformation. It is a bold and fearless performance. Vikander is a revelation. Her face reveals every emotion.
I just read Self Made Men by Henry Rubin. The central question posed by Rubin’s extensive study of females to males (FTM) is also present in males to females (MTF). It is the question of the penis. Can you be accepted as a male without one? Can you truly be accepted as a female if you have a penis?
It seems far easier for MTF to transition and be accepted by society due to all the accoutrements that quickly identify a woman. Enhanced facial cosmetic surgery, hormones, breast implants, make-up, feminine clothes, wigs and undergarments can create a woman acceptable to society.
FTM presents a more difficult challenge even with daily shots of testosterone, pumped muscles and a masculine manner. The surgeons who specialize in sex reassignment surgery have yet to perfect a working penis.
Currently, the U.S. military has 1700 men who have returned from battle with damaged penises. They are, regardless, still accepted as men. The loss of a functioning penis may be significant to them but in society they are completely male. Finally, doctors have just recently announced the successful transfer of a penis to an injured soldier.
When penis transfer surgery becomes as common as breast enlargements and as inexpensive, FTM will want the operation.
Granted most people could care less about the individuals who chose to bring their bodies in line with their minds. Or, in the facie linguae preferred today, to become their “authentic self”. Even with having the former Bruce Jenner* as the public face of MTF, the question remains: Can you truly be a woman with a penis?
I have not read the book The Danish Girl, so I cannot judge the authenticity of the film directed by Tom Hooper.
In this beautiful and engaging film, there are, however, some rather glaring features that do not ring true.
When we first are introduced to Einar (Eddie Redmayne), he is a rather successful Copenhagen artist with style and a provocative sensual appearance. He is elegantly dressed and enjoying his acclaim. He meets struggling artist Gerda (Alicia Vikander) and they quickly fall in lust and then in love.
Einar and Gerda marry and have an erotic, sexually-satisfying love life. Nothing is amiss. They lounge around naked in bed. Einar sexually desires Gerda, but lo and behold, when Gerda asks decadently slim Einar to stand in as the sitter for a portrait she is doing, his touching the gorgeous gown he must wear awakens something unsettling in Einar.
Einar is enthralled in his image. He practices moving like a woman and aping female coquettish and seductive gestures.
Einar and Gerda think it’s hilarious how cute he looks in the gown and makeup. They create a persona for Einar and call the image they have conjured up – “ Lili”. Einar and Gerda see themselves as avant-garde artists and its performance art for them. Einar and Gerda continue their social life yet now it is Lili, Einar’s cousin, who accompanies Gerda.
They enjoy this façade until one evening, Gerda finds that under his masculine clothes Einar is wearing one of her nightgowns. Gerda realizes Einar has been wearing the nightgown all evening. Her discovery excites Einar and he gets aroused. The worm has turned.
Suddenly, Einar does not want to be the dominant one in the sexual relationship. He wants to be Lili full time. And what about Gerda? We are led to believe that wearing a fancy dress ignited Einar’s subliminal – never before recognized – desire to become a woman.
Einar had been repressing this need all along? I strongly doubt it.
If it was 2015, Einar would have been classified as an “autogynephilic transsexual.”
“The two types of transsexuals who begin life as males are called homosexual and autogynephilic. Once understood, these names are appropriate. Succinctly put, homosexual male-to-female transsexuals are extremely feminine gay men, and autogynephilic transsexuals are erotically obsessed with the image of themselves as women.” From The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism by J. Michael Bailey. This is a brave and provocative book and I urge everyone interested in transsexualism to read Bailey’s thoroughly absorbing and heavily researched work.
Interestingly, Gerda’s paintings of Lili are a sensation. Gerda finally has achieved the acclaim she has desired. Now there is a demand for paintings of Lili. Instead of urging Einar to stop cross-dressing and giving Lili life, Gerda needs Einar to sit for portraits as Lili. Gerda has become a co-conspirator and while losing her husband to a fantasy she encouraged, she has gaining status in the art world.
Of course, Einar realizes his true self is Lili and refuses to return to his former masculine self. Not only does Einar deny Gerda her husband sexually and emotionally, Lili wants to be treated as a woman enjoying the attentions of men. Lili wants to be free of Gerda. Einar agrees to see specialists about his condition but every attempt to kill Lili fails.
Einar insensitively tells Gerda that Einar is dead and they must divorce so Lili can emerge fully female. But Lili has a penis. Einar starts reading about sex-reassignment surgery and, facing the enormous risks, cannot live as a woman with a penis.
Bravely, Einar finds a doctor who will remove his male genitalia. The doctor has not yet had complete success with the surgery, but he is willing to try again.
We are not told what surgeries took place that made Lili Elbe be one of the world’s first recipients of sex reassignment surgery. My research indicated that Einar was a middle-aged man when the complete transformation occurred and he died after complications from another surgery. This last surgery was not revealed.
For Gerda, she is always by Einar/Lili’s side, selflessly, even denying her sexual needs and the attention of a classmate of Einar’s, who returns and becomes infatuated with Gerda.
Redmayne completely transforms into Lili and it is a bold and fearless performance. He assumes the character of Lili and it is an egoless transformation. There is no self-doubt in his portrayal. There is not one moment where Redmayne winks at the audience, saying ‘I’m really a male movie star and don’t forget I’m a virile man just playing a part’.
Redmayne rightly deserves a Best Actor nomination and, if it wasn’t for Leonardo DiCaprio’s astonishing performance in THE REVENANT, Redmayne would once again walk off with the Academy Award.
Vikander is a revelation. Her Gerda is a starring role colored with nuisance and barely contained jealousy. Vikander exposes all the hurt and suffering of Gerda. Her face expresses every painful emotion. The screenwriters present Gerda as a suffering saint who stood by Lili, surrendering herself to her former husband’s needs. Vikander shows you Gerda’s conflict. Vikander should be nominated in the Best Actress category and not Best Supporting Actress. Vikander is a come-from-nowhere exceptional actress and so far her movie roles have been perfect. I am concerned. Is there a romantic comedy in her future to ruin her perfect record?
*Caitlyn Jenner refuses to address this publically though carefully worded comments by friends indicate Caitlyn has completed transitioning.
Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email at email@example.com.