Sunday, January 31, 2016

Love blossoms when we can bring 'Lili' to life

This is being written just after Celena and I have returned home from viewing The Danish Girl. A film loosely inspired by the lives of Danish artists Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener, this film is deeply moving and inspiring. It captures the struggles of this couple as they come to realise that Einar Wegener, the husband in the relationship, wants to become a woman. As the movie unfolds, Lili comes to life, both literally and metaphorically, ultimately undergoing what was, for the era (the 1920s), groundbreaking transgender surgery.

By rights, this is not a movie I should have liked. The subject matter is quite foreign to me, dealing with matters and a struggle I have only encountered in perhaps one solitary relationship in my life...that I am aware of. And while I am sure the depiction on the big screen has been brought to life with a healthy dose of poetic license, I found myself strangely drawn to the turmoil of Einar and the loyalty displayed by his wife, Gerda.

Let me be clear: I am not intimating that I want to become a woman. But is it not possible that we all have an inner "Lili"? Don't each of us have something inside that needs to be given a voice, an inner truth that, no matter how much we try, cannot be suppressed or ignored? We may not need to dress it up in the clothes of the opposite sex, or undergo radical surgery to, finally, feel complete and whole but isn't there something crying out to be given expression?

Go to any gym and you see people wanting to sculpt their bodies. Enter any church or temple and you will find those with their eyes turned to the heavens, seeking divine intervention for some transformation in circumstances. Wander the campus of a university, the classrooms of a school, the corridors of a parliament - are these places not graced by individuals looking to advance in intellect and enquiry, hoping to give themselves a chance to make a difference in their life and the world at large?

Such comparisons are not to downplay the struggle of those who are undergoing a more personal journey or who may start out in one lifestyle but then feel compelled to enter another. Nor is it my intention to downplay the angst experienced by those forced to watch on, as this journey to wholeness unfolds. Part of the beauty of The Danish Girl is that it brings to light the sadness of Gerda, as she comes to terms with having to let go of the man she loved as her husband. For as Einar shares in one of many poignant moments between them: "I think Lily's thoughts, I dream her dreams. She was always there." 

In the end, I think the real power of The Danish Girl lies in its affirmation of the importance of self-sacrifice. We may very well have an inner flower that we want to see blossom but we also know that, sometimes, we have to make sacrifices for those we love, and those who love us. Gerda, knowing the cost, does more than just paint and sketch her husband dressed as Lili - she makes the ultimate sacrifice by letting go of Einar.

And in her doing that, Lili is able to profess a love that defies boundaries and labels and social mores. As she tells Gerda: "I love you, because you are the only person who made sense of me. And made me, possible."

1 comment:

  1. Beautifully written David and a considered thoughtful post. I haven't seen the movie yet but do look forward to it. A