I originally had wanted to write a book reflection this Monday. But this movie had disturbed me and made me think. It’s best not to avoid such emotionally moving material. I didn’t plan to see it, but my sister Liza wanted to. So I treated her to this movie after all she had done helping me watch movies during my Christmas break.
The movie follows the conflicts and joys between Danish artists Gerda Wegener (Alicia VIkander) and her husband, Einar (Eddie Redmayne), as he explores his potential as a woman named Lili Elbe. What starts as a gag becomes a transformation for Einar.
Two lines by Einar/Lili struck me. I wanted to unpack them further.
“I’m trying to figure out who I am.”
Einar tells this to a French doctor after he had seen many specialists. The doctor promptly darts away. When Einar sees his diagnosis of schizophrenia, he escapes through a window before the doctor and his staff can lock him up.
Most of the doctors saw only a problem to be fixed and never bothered to learn about Einar as a person. The journey to figure out oneself must always be respected. As Christians, we should always walk that person. We will not agree with the choices, but we must be present to understand, help and point toward other alternatives.
Gerda exemplifies this accompaniment throughout the movie although she faltered at times. In their last scene together, Lili told Gerda that she should not worry about her anymore.
“It’s an old habit,” Gerda replied.
Einar’s statement could be unpacked further through Theology of the Body. The married life of Einar and Gerda pointed toward something (innocence in the Garden and life eternal in the future). Should all that be disregarded?
Husband and wife make a total gift of themselves to each other. Gerda returns home emotionally wrought after a party. Lili sets out dinner. Gerda says she needs her husband. Yes, Lili made dinner. Was that the correct self-sacrifice? What is that self-sacrifice directed toward?
“This is not my body. Please take it away.”
Einar says this to the German doctor who plans to attempt the first sex change surgery. Einar/Lili feels disconnected from the body. But isn’t the body the only thing that expresses who we are? How we dress, laugh, talk and act are all expressed through the body. Is the body just some matter that we can alter at will? Or does the body have an intrinsic meaning and value in its own right that should be explored and respected? Bishop Robert Barron already had explored this body issue in an article when Caitlyn Jenner made headlines last year.
Maybe we have taken this mind over/against the body too far. We don’t have two extreme opposites inside us. We are one unit (body and soul). The body expresses the soul and the soul powers the body.
Overall, the movie is very good. Cinematography is stunning. I wouldn’t be surprised that Redmayne and Vikander win awards for their roles. After much pondering about this movie, I’m ready for some shooting and fighting. Star Wars, anyone?