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This pseudo-biographical film from director Tom Hooper brings to life the true story of Lili Elbe, made famous by David Ebershoff’s fictionalised biography of the same name.
The film depicts the life of Lili Elbe (Eddie Redmayne), one of the first known subjects of gender confirmation surgery. Lili is born Einar Wegener, a popular landscape artist in Copenhagen, and is married to Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander) who too is an artist.
When Lili, still identifying at the time as Einar, is asked to pose in tights so that Gerda can finish a portrait, it brings to light a lifelong hidden identity, one that the viewer discovers alongside the couple.
The film doesn’t solely focus on Lili and her transformation but also on Gerda, who proves to be no ordinary supporting wife. Gerda has the deeply emotional struggle of slowly losing her husband as Lili’s true identity emerges – a struggle that tests not just her patience but also her love for Lili.
Though the relationship between Lili and Gerda is strained at times, it is clear that they do adore each other. The relationship plays out beautifully throughout the film.
The writing is brilliant, capturing the emotional struggle as Lili seeks to express her true self and Gerda’s struggle to cope with this. The screenplay was worked on for a decade before production by Lucinda Coxon. Eddie Redmayne has spoken about the emotional challenges of taking on the role.
I’ll admit going into this film I was sceptical. I hoped that it didn’t cheapen or diminish the story of Lili – a story that many people share. This is not a story to do half-heartedly. I was aware of comments from others that it focuses, as trans stories often do, on tragedy and surgery over other facets of transgender lives.
But the film was an eye opener for me – and so I imagine it will be for others too. The two main characters are beautifully portrayed by Redmayne and Vikander. I will admit my knowledge of transgender issues is vague at best. We are too quick to dismiss what we don’t understand, misdiagnosing as the doctors in the film did. But I learned from this film and so it’s a step in the right direction.
I can’t begin to imagine what it must feel like to be trapped in a body that doesn’t represent who you are – an ‘error in nature’, as it was put in the film. This film, however, offers a glimpse into that journey.
I strongly urge you to watch, to gain even a small understanding into Lili’s world. It is an emotive piece of cinema that had me in tears at numerous points. This film is sure to create quite a buzz as we move into awards season.