Lili Elbe – The Heartbreaking Story of `The Danish Girl`

Lili Elbe - The Heartbreaking Story of `The Danish Girl`
The Danish Girl Poster
Poster for The Danish Girl. Credit: Focus Features

“The Danish Girl” is a wonderful 2015 film that brings into attention the heartbreaking story of Lili Elbe (played by Eddie Redmayne), the recipient of  one of the first documented sex reassignment surgery -performed by Kurt Warnekron a german gynaecologist and a pioneer of sex-change surgery- and her wife, the Danish painter Gerda Weigner (played by Alicia Vikander). Before we start talking about the plot of the movie, we shall see who are the protagonists of this wonderful ecranisation and who were they during their life. 

The Beginnings of Lili Elbe:

Lili Elbe was a transgender woman of the 20th century and one of the earliest recipients of sex reassignment surgery, still experimental at that time. Born Einar Magnus Andreas Wegener before her transition as Lily, she was regarded as a famous landscape painter even though she fully stopped painting after her transition

She married Gerda while they were studying art in Copenhagen and stayed together after she died of complications from her uterus surgery in 1931. Her wife Gerd Wegner was a famous painter and illustrator for magazines whose controversial paintings about an enigmatic femme fatale and erotic illustrations delighted the public of 20th century Paris.

Wegener created marvellous illustrations and paintings which broke the walls of  Both painters deserve recognition as direct precursors of two powerful and extremely important movements, the LGBT+ Movement and The Feminist Movement.

The Cinematic Representation:

The aforementioned film, based on a fictional novel with the same name written by David Ebershoff brings into public attention the struggles of transgender people when it comes to personal acceptance, familial acceptance and societal approval. The case of Lili Elbe represented an important step for the world of medicine and even more so for the trans community, making her a wonderful example of courage and perseverance.

Lili Elbe
London: Jarrolds, 1933. Photograph: Lili, Paris, 1926. CREDIT: Wikipedia

However, apart from Lili’s struggle and her death, one of the most heart-wrenching moments of the film is the constant struggle of Gerda at the `loss` of her husband, raising an important question about how spouses and families deal with this type of loss. My only critique is that the film seems to focus sometimes more on the `grieving` aspect of Gerda’s life, when confronted with the new identity of her lover, than with Lili’s story and struggle to accept both herself and her new life. Overall the movie opens an important dialogue about the trans community through history and how much they had to endure.


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