In “Big Eyes,” a movie about artists that came out last winter, a woman painter (Amy Adams) is forced to deal with her conflicting emotions when her husband begins to take credit for her most popular works. “The Danish Girl,” which recently received several Oscar nominations, also explores the topic of professional jealousy in a two artist union, though that’s just the starting point for the drama to begin. When the movie opens in Amsterdam in the mid-1920’s, Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander) is deeply in love with her husband, Einar, (Eddie Redmayne) who’s also an artist, but feels overshadowed professionally. However, she’s told that she has the potential to be great – if only she can find the right subject. So back home she goes after her portraits are rejected determined to try yet again. They also hope to start a family, something that will cause problems in the near future.
When Alicia hits upon the idea of having Eddie serve as a female model for her paintings, the idea turns out surprisingly well, and her paintings start selling. Although he’s squeamish at first about the idea, Eddie soon takes to dressing up as a woman, even accompanying his wife out to public gatherings, as Cousin “Lili.” Because their set has a reputation for being bohemian (which is what I assumed because at first Eddie isn’t very convincing), no one bats an eye at this, and Lili finds herself with an admirer (Ben Wishaw), which doesn’t entirely repel Eddie. However pleased Alicia is with her professional success, she’s still understandably conflicted when her husband begins to claim that Lili is who he’s really meant to be. Even when doctors they consult begin to talk about “chemical imbalances,” (something still used to explain inexplicable behavior today), she insists on helping Eddie take steps to find a solution, and though she’s hardly pleased with the change, still is adamant that her husband is not insane.
As Eddie becomes more and more determined to be Lili, he paints less, which leads Alicia to meet with an art dealer (Matthias Schoenaerts) who’s a childhood friend of Eddie’s, also hoping to gain insight into her husband’s behavior. And as Eddie meets a doctor who promises to try an experimental surgery that will change his gender, Alicia finds herself becoming attracted to Matthias. The stage is set for tragedy, but the movie does allow both Eddie and Alicia some happiness, even if it’s temporary.
Both Alicia and Kate Winslet (for “Steve Jobs”) have been nominated this year in the Best Actress Oscar category, and after watching “The Danish Girl,” I realized how much their roles have in common. Both play young women who have to deal with conflicting behavior from the man they care for. And despite friction throughout the movie, it’s clear how much their partner relies on them. There’s far less snark flying back and forth between Alicia and Eddie, of course, but they’re both, in the end, standing by their man roles. More or less anyway.