'The Danish Girl': The protagonist remains something of a mystery

'Danish' stars Eddie Redmayne as Lili Elbe, one of the first people to undergo gender reassignment surgery.

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'The Danish Girl' stars Eddie Redmayne (r.) and Alicia Vikander (l.).

It’s a sign of the cultural shift that a movie about a transgender woman who undergoes gender reassignment surgery should today seem less than an eye-opener. After Caitlyn Jenner and Jeffrey Tambor in Amazon’s “Transparent,” there is little novelty in Tom Hooper’s “The Danish Girl,” about the Danish landscape painter Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne), who transitioned in the 1920s into Lili Elbe, one of the first to undergo such a surgery. Novelty isn’t everything, though. What might have rescued “The Danish Girl” is a deeper and tougher treatment of Lili’s transition, and the transition, too, of her portrait painter wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander, fine), who stood by her.

Redmayne, who radiates ambi-sexuality here, is perfectly cast, but the role, as scripted by Lucinda Coxon, doesn’t provide enough ballast for him. Lili's exploration begins when Gerda asks her husband to pose as a female model for one of her portraits. When Gerda arrives home one day to find Lili swathed in stockings and high heels, they are both confronted, after six years of marriage, with a momentous decision about their future together.

But what this couple goes through, in psychological terms, is vague at best. (Gerda, for example, demonstrates little rage.) Whether Einar or Lili, the character remains something of a mystery by the end. This is not an inappropriate approach, I suppose, but I wish the filmmakers had tried a bit harder to unravel a bit more of that mystery. Grade: B- (Rated R for some sexuality and full nudity.)

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