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Film / The Danish Girl

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"I think Lili's thoughts, I dream her dreams. She was always there."
Lili Elbe

A 2000 novel by David Ebershoff, The Danish Girl is based on the life of Lili Elbe, one of the first known recipients of gender affirming surgery. A film version, directed by Tom Hooper and starring Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander, was released in 2015 after spending over a decade in Development Hell.

In 1926, Lili (then presenting as male) and her wife, Gerda, were accomplished painters in Copenhagen. One day, Gerda asks Lili to stand in for their mutual friend, Ulla, who was supposed to model for her latest painting but canceled her appointment. After trying on women's clothing, Lili realizes that she is transgender. Gerda doesn't know what to make of her "husband"'s changes at first. But eventually, Gerda stands by Lili as Lili undergoes gender affirming surgery.

This work features examples of:

  • Adaptation Name Change:
    • Gerda Wegener was named Greta Waud in the novel. Furthermore, Gerda's real life maiden name was Gottlieb.
    • Ulla Paulson was Anna Fonsmark in the original novel.
  • Artistic License – History:
    • Far from struggling with her spouse's identity, the real Gerda Gottlieb was highly supportive all through Lili's transition, and remained close with Lili until her death. Also, there is no historical evidence supporting Gerda losing her attraction to Lili after the transition - and plenty of evidence to the contrary. The real Gerda Wegener drew lesbian erotica, and lived openly with Lili as a lesbian couple in Paris. Their marriage ended simply because Denmark didn't recognize unions between two women at the time, but they remained together.
    • Several characters are invented, including Hans.
    • Rather than dying after her second operation, the real life Lili Elbe had several successful surgeries, and died from an unsuccessful womb transplant, performed by a completely different surgeon (something which is only just on the verge of becoming possible thanks to organ rejection).
    • Gerda Wegener notably painted a large body of lesbian erotic paintings, this fact is completely omitted from the story.
    • There's no evidence for Lili being attacked and beaten by men in Paris.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Lili dies from complications of her second operation, but got to live happily as Lili for a while and forged a reconciliation with Gerda.
  • Closet Key: Lili realises she's a woman when Gerda asks her to wear women's stockings and shoes for one of her paintings. When Gerda see's Lili's torment and asks if she's reponsible, Lili tells her that Lili has been there all along, and that she's actually grateful to Gerda for bringing her to life.
  • Coming-Out Story: Lili realises she's a woman, having to struggle with transitioning and eventually undergoes gender affirming surgery (among the first trans people who ever publicly did this).
  • Costume Porn: The film is set in the 1920s and showcases the gorgeous clothing that was in fashion during the decade.
  • Cure Your Gays: Or transgender people, rather. Even the most compassionate doctor Lili meets thinks she's mentally unstable and needs some sort of painful therapy. The worst diagnoses her as schizophrenic and is ready to have her hauled off to an asylum before Lili escapes.
  • Happily Married: Gerda and Lili start out as this and struggle to maintain it as Lili struggles with her other identity and eventually transitions. Although estranged at some points, they reconcile just before Lili passes away.
  • Hide Your Lesbians: An odd example, as the film deals openly with LGBT themes, but this is still applied to Gerda. The film has her leave Lili after her transition, and explicitly states that her coming out ended their sex life. In real life, they never stopped living together, and some comments from Gerda indicate that Lili's coming out did not diminish her attraction to her. Gerda also had been known for painting lesbian erotica, scandalizing many people at the time, and strongly encouraged Lili in her transition, indicating she was at least bisexual.
  • Jerkass: The two guys who harass Lili in the park. Ironically, when they ask her if she's a lesbian, she's actually pleased that at least she's been taken for a woman. But as the taunting escalates and their comments indicate that they genuinely don't know what gender she is (her appearance is very androgynous), she gets fed up and punches one of them, only to be beaten up by both.
  • The Mountains of Illinois: The movie shows the area around Vejle as a dramatic mountain landscape. Vejle, like the rest of Denmark, has no mountains, and actually looks like this.
  • The Queen's Latin: The characters are ostensibly Danish and French, but speak in British accents.
  • Scenery Porn: The film shows many beautiful scenes from Copenhagen and Paris in the 1920s.
  • Trans Tribulations: The film is about Lili realizing she's transgender, and then coming out publicly. At first she's distraught over her realization and the strain it starts to put on her marriage. She goes to a string of psychiatrists who are unhelpful at best, until finally meeting a doctor who accepts her for herself, proposing that Lili undergo (then a totally novel) gender affirming surgery. Lili enthusiastically agrees. Though complications from the surgery sadly cause her death, she's happy at having gotten the surgery.