Film Review: A Movie to Move You

Amy Gottlieb, MA, LMFT

Sometimes in the quiet dark of a movie theatre, where no-one can see you, something magical happens: you change. Sometimes it’s a lot, and sometimes it’s an infinitesimal amount. But there is the potential for a shift. You can feel it in your heart and gut and mind. You leave the theatre a different person than who you were when you went in.

We all have biases. Some opinions are held very strongly, and others less so. Topics are controversial for a reason – people do not think the same. And the newer a concept is in society, typically the more controversy there is. People do not adapt to change easily. And the further the concept is from their own lived experience, the harder it can be for people to embrace what is new to them.

In the movie, The Danish Girl, adapted from a novel by David Ebershoff, screenplay by Lucinda Coxen, and directed by Tom Hopper, we follow the transformation of Lili, portrayed by the brilliant Eddie Redmayne, based on the real life Danish painter, Lili Elbe, one of the first people to undergo surgery to transform from being biologically male to female. The medical procedure was to make a physical change, as Lili was already female in every other way by identity.

Friends and acquaintances have reported to me that they came out from seeing the film with a noticeable shift in their thinking. It’s not that they went into the film phobic about trans (and other gender non-conforming) identities, but they were candid to report they were ignorant about and not particularly at ease with gender identities only recently becoming part of mainstream society. Then they saw the film, and grew in compassion and respect for the unbelievably difficult, painful, and courageous step it takes for someone to proclaim the gender they are born into is not the gender they are meant to be.

Personally I have been educated by two very dear trans friends of mine, both of whom have been incredibly candid to let me into their worlds and patiently share with me details from birth to where they are today, finally at home in the gender they should have been assigned from birth.

The Danish Girl is a beautiful movie. The cinematography, set design, lush music score, and incredible acting lend themselves to a richly visual and deeply meaningful experience. And yes, dare I say, there is a very good chance people with open hearts and minds will experience change. Audiences members who are simply undereducated and lacking exposure as to how a trans identity can evolve, just might make a shift. In the privacy of a dark movie theatre, there is the profound potential to move closer to embracing an identity that is not your own, another way we, as wildly diverse human beings, can show up in life.

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