I think I’ll start this article with a small rant. One of the most idiot parroted talking points I see from people who are against LGBT rights is that they don’t have a problem with gay people getting married just as long as they marry people of the opposite sex. Do the people parroting this talking point want to volunteer to marry a gay person of the opposite sex and not be able to have a completely loving, devoted and fulfilling marriage? Would they like to volunteer their children to commit to an unhappy life? I certainly would not want to marry a man who had to spend his life pretending to be something he wasn’t. Neither of us would be happy. Just look at all the heterosexual people who get married just to get married and make too many compromises. It ends in a lot of nasty divorces. ‘Carol’ and the ‘Danish Girl’ both have the theme of compromising one’s true self and the marriages ultimately fester for it. (The issue of certain politicians wanting to make bathroom laws is something else altogether, but hearing them talk makes me think that everyone should steer clear of those men. Where their minds go is a scary place.)
When I first heard that Eddie Redmayne would be playing Lili Elbe, I knew he’d be nominated for an Oscar. It wasn’t that I thought he’d give an outstanding performance; it’s just the kind of role that is often called “Oscar Bait.” His performance is actually pretty thin and superficial. Much like his performance in ‘The Theory of Everything,’ he has a vacant dazed expression on his face throughout. It’s as though he felt that he was playing and transgendered woman and didn’t attempt to give her any depth. The reason that the role is considered brave is because transgendered individuals are ridiculed and marginalized. But they are also actual human beings and the woman that Redmayne portrayed actually existed (though some of the events happened two decades earlier). There are a couple brief moments in the film where they have Lily experience issues that women go through or that transgendered individuals experienced at that time: there is a point where she has to reject unwanted advances from a persistent man (who is later revealed to be gay) and doesn’t see himself as being too pushy. There are also a couple of moments where he is nearly committed to psychiatric wards, but those are brief and there is no really follow up. Most of the film is Lili/Einar desperate to dress in frilly women’s apparel. The film’s heavy focus on that aspect almost made me forget the fleeting moments I discussed early.
The person who really deserves credit is Alicia Vikander. I didn’t even know who she was before seeing ‘Ex Machina,’ but I’ve seen her in three films since and she has become one of my favorite actresses. Her character, Gerda Wegener, has a fully fleshed out story arc. She goes from being a struggling artist living in her husband’s shadow, to an artist who finds her identity just as she begins to lose her marriage, to a woman who loses her husband that she has loved for years when she realizes that she (Lily/Einar) can no longer pretend to be something she is not. Unlike the husband and boyfriend in ‘Carol,’ Gerda doesn’t forcefully cling to her significant other and try to bully and trapped Lili/Einar. She is supportive of the life threatening operation and even tries to help Lili start a new life.
‘Carol,’ explores the lives and sexuality of two women who fall in love in the repressive 1950s. The novel is based on actual events, just like the novel for ‘The Danish Girl,’ though the author is the novel is the basis for one of the two leads. In the film, Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) is in the process of divorcing her husband (Kyle Chandler). She simply had to pretend to be something she wasn’t while married to him. The woman she falls in love with, Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) is in a relationship with a man (Jake Lacy) who wants to marry her and take her on a trip to Paris. In both cases, the men swear that they are desperately in love with the women and cling to their relationships. They even resort to bullying when the women reject their affections. Jake Lacy’s character(He usually plays such nice guys, so he’s doing a great job out of his comfort zone), Richard Semco, berates Therese when she decides that she wants to use her savings (money she’d worked for) to pay for her rent while she goes on a trip with Carol rather than their trip to Paris he’d been pushing. He even reminds her that he wants to marry her, as though that should make her obligated to his wants. In the end they break up and he’s dating someone else. She hadn’t been encouraging him and seemed afraid to outright discourage him. It is also mentioned that Richard had been in serious relationships before meeting Therese, showing that he just wanted to be married for the sake of being married.
Carol’s husband, Harge, continues making unwanted advances toward her. He insists that she come to his family party. He also arrives a few days early to take their daughter on a trip for Christmas, this ruins Carol’s Christmas plans with her daughter. This was all a rouse, of course as he hired a detective to follow Carol and Therese on their road trip so he could use it as evidence against her in court to take custody of their daughter away from her. Even after he puts her through all of that, he tries to get her to come back to him and see a psychiatrist. She considers this at first, but realizes that this will not be what is best for her daughter. She allows her husband to have custody (though there is the issue of a man who thinks that women should be forced to stay in a relationship just because a man “loves” her may not be the best man to raise a little girl, but it was a different time. They thought that a mother who was a lesbian was somehow worse than a father who clung hard to a relationship with the mother and tried to manipulated, bully and trap her rather than letting her go.) but Carol would get visitation rights. The film ends with Carol and Therese apparently decide to have a long term relationship with each other and that they will be happy together.
‘The Danish Girl’ comes out on DVD and Blu-Ray on March 1. I’d give it two stars for Eddie Redmayne’s performance and storyline, and 4 stars for Alicia Vikander’s performance and storyline. ‘Carol’ comes out on March 15. It gets four stars for the exploration, performances and story arcs of the characters as well as Edward Lachman’s beautiful cinematography and Todd Haynes’ haunting directing. Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Alicia Vikander, and Eddie Redmayne are all up for Oscars this year, they women are all deserving of their nominations. Redmayne, not so much.