Am I insane?
Einar Wegener. The protagonist of The Danish Girl. Is haunted by this question throughout most of his life. Am I insane?
He has always felt that he was a female. But he has a male body, so he has learned to repress who he is, to consider his female identity something to be hidden, a source of shame. Something wrong.
But he is not Einar Wegener. He is not a man. She is only pretending to be Einer. She is Lili Elbe.
I try to avoid reviews and plot summaries, so I am going to focus on one aspect only of the film, and that is the role that Lili’s wife played in helping her to emerge. Gerda, a true artist, saw the truth even before she knew what she saw. She sketched and painted the biological male she had married as a beautiful woman, often placing her in scenes of lesbian erotica. At the time, Lili was still pretending to be a man named Einer, but as her wife painted her, and those painting and sketches ended up bringing Gerda international fame and success, Lili was able to emerge, facing the fears and resistances of the world.
Lili, while still living in man’s body, had become an international success as a female model.
It must have been so exciting for her to see the truth of her identity validated by her wife, and by the public’s celebration of her, and I have to believe it not only brought her great joy but also the courage to fully reveal herself to the world and ultimately pursue what was at the time dangerous and life threatening surgery. She had seen her true self painted, represented, loving presented to the world by the woman she loved, and she could and must take the risks and face whatever challenges she had to face. Among those fears and risks was the possible loss of her relationship with Gerda, whom she did love very much.
In the movie, Lili’s end is joyful and sad. After going in for her second surgery, she loses a great deal of blood she is near death. Gerda is with her, and Lili tells Gerda she had a dream in which she was a baby in her mother’ arms, and her mother looked down at her and called her Lili.
She is radiant with joy recounting the dream. She, Lili, has fuly accepted who she is, and she believes her mother has accepted her, too, and so she dies joyful, at last having become physically the woman she always knew herself to be, and having been accepted and loved as that woman. She dies happy and at peace, with the woman who loved her and supported her and let her live her life freely and openly at her side.
The ending of the movie is not true. Lili died after her fourth, not second surgery. She had gone in for a fourth surgery in order to have a uterus implant in the hopes she could have a baby. She wanted to be a woman fully, and to have the child of a man she had fallen in love with.
Gerda was not there at Lili’s side when she died. The two had separated after a Danish court invalidated their marriage in 1930. Gerda had moved to Morocco, and when she heard of Lili’s death she is said to have replied, “My poor little Lili.”