Sunday, 10 January 2016

The Danish Girl

Everyone seems to be talking about this film. I haven't seen it yet, but I feel I ought to. Two of my friends who have seen it have told me what they think.

One (a natal woman) wasn't impressed, and thought the star, Eddie Redmayne, was unconvincing in the role of transsexual woman Lili Elbe. Her critical focus was on the casting and the quality of the acting - as it might well be for most people who aren't trans, given that the 'plot' - subject to a few things not dealt with or mentioned - broadly follows the real-life facts and is a given. The interest is therefore going to be on the interplay of the characters and especially the development of the main one. Certainly, the official trailer's coverage of Lili's first really close contact with female attire, and her first kiss with a man at a reception, and the consequences hinted at, is rather tantalising and I may break my own general rule about never watching weepy films.

The other friend, a trans woman herself, who watched in the company of another trans friend, told me she had been moved to tears. The film will naturally have huge significance for a trans woman, especially someone who has herself undergone surgery. She has urged me to go and see the film.

I think this difference in reaction is completely understandable. A non-trans person is just not going to identify strongly with Lili Elbe and how she felt about herself. How can a non-trans person feel the gut need to make the body align with the soul within? How can they understand what drives trans people to take the steps they do, in order obtain the fullest possible self-expression in their right gender? How can they look at this film and directly compare it with a transitional experience of their own? There hasn't been any transitional experience, whether contemplated or fulfilled. So there must be an imagination shortfall - and an emotional shortfall too.

Let me put it this way. I've never had a baby: I never could. And I don't want one now. But it's nevertheless a matter for intense regret, not to have had that experience of all female experiences. It's one of those 'if-only-I'd-had-the-capability-at-the-proper-time' things. I've recently discovered that I am no longer emotionally neutral on the subject. 'Mother' is a very heavily loaded word in so many ways.

Of course, I can 'easily' imagine how it could be for a first-time mother. I can approach the whole thing very seriously, and really try to share the emotion, really try to imagine the weight and movement of a child in the womb, and all the worries and discomforts and anticipations of pregnancy.

But of course, it's not possible to really know. And it's far too late to find out now. Nor do I understand anything about the inner feelings that drive some women to go to extraordinary lengths to get themselves a child. Why a woman might risk even death, against a doctor's advice. It does seem to me that what I'm saying here may go some way to illustrate the problem of 'full understanding' for a non-trans person, in relation to what Lili Elbe put herself through, and what she had to let go of.

And what about Eddie Redmayne? As the choice for the part? And his performance? I must go and see the film for a proper opinion, but from what I've seen in clips, I personally think he was right for the part. He had the right look at least. I mean he seemed intriguingly female. Three nights ago, I heard him talking on BBC Radio 4's The Film Programme. He explained the conscientious things he did to get into the part. Such as studying the look and behaviour of both ordinary and trans women. He wanted to get inside Lili Elbe's head and portray her authentically in the various stages of her transition. My impression was that he made a jolly good attempt to understand her. He also admitted that no actor, certainly not himself, could play such a role to perfection. Which begs the question, could even a trans actor?

The film seems to be doing quite well. Which is a very encouraging thing, because although many a trans person will want to see it, to be profitable it must find its largest audience outside the trans world. And that argues a willingness in the general public to treat the film in an adult way, as a love story, about a relationship that goes tragically amiss, and for a reason that an ordinary audience can recognise, accept, and have sympathy with. Which surely takes the mass public portrayal of trans women to a new level.

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