The Swedish Girl: My Day with Alicia Vikander

TIMG_8381oday I got to attend a screening of The Danish Girl, followed by Q&A with co-star Alicia Vikander!

The event was held at The Pacific Design Center SilverScreen Theater in West Hollywood, CA at 11 am. I got there around 9:30-9:45, where a small line had already formed. I chatted with the people in front of and behind me, each in various stages of working their way through this year’s Oscar nominees.

Followed by the movie (which I wasn’t really feeling), Alicia came out for a Question & Answer session. She came across very well, and genuinely surprised at how suddenly fame has hit her. The Danish Girl had finished production several months prior, and Ex  Machina about two years ago, and she commented on how funny it’s been that she’s become famous, now, for work she’d wrapped up quite a while ago.

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Answering someone else’s question, she mentioned how little information she was able to find on the real-life woman she portrayed, Gerda Wegener. I then asked her what she did to prepare for that type of role, and she replied how it was a combination of the research they could acquire, with learning more about the transgender community, particularly by their loved ones. Her goal was to bring together the timeless experience of being there for someone you love, going through that process, and the historical context of the true-life woman she was embodying.

Afterwards, there was a mad scramble for autographs and photos; I struck out in the selfie department, but did get her to autograph the Ultraviolet Digital Copy slip (!) from my Ex Machina Blu-ray! (A silver Sharpie on the cover would have been an excellent choice, but I didn’t have the goods.)

No, I didn’t love The Danish Girl but I did love the opportunity to hear The Swedish Girl speak and participate in the Q&A (plus score an autograph). She’s already won the SAG Award and an Oscar may be on the horizon – we’ll know in 3 weeks!

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The Danish Girl (2015)

Perhaps it was the bizarro audience with whom I experienced this film, but Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl comes across less like an emotional, complex love story and more like camp: pure and simple camp.

Of course it’s hard to go into this movie, about a Danish woman (born a man) transitioning into her true physical self, truly “blind;” audiences have some idea what they’re getting themselves into. But even the movie itself doesn’t seem to take the source material seriously. Every line that alludes to “change” or “knowing oneself” is taken with a wink, a smile, even a giggle.

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This early scene, of Einar posing with a dress & dance shoes for his wife Gerda’s painting, had my audience howling with laughter.

The performance by Eddie Redmayne doesn’t help, who reduces Einar Wegener (later Lili) into an awkward, angular wilt of a figure. I can only take so many scenes of him staring at the ground and whispering to the characters around him. Not to discount the toll that the experiences of a 1920s-era transgender woman would have on one’s emotional state, but every scene follows the same pattern. You can predict Redmayne’s reactions before they even happen. His one-trick performance limits how far you can connect with the narrative action, keeping this tale out of the realm of engrossing drama and safely within camp territory.

The most interesting scene for me came during Einar & Gerda’s time in Paris. Einar steals away to go to a peep show, where he watches a woman disrobe and mimics her suggestive poses. More so than simply looking and dressing like a woman, he tries to get in touch with something more internal: a woman’s sensuality. This aspect of the transgender experience is not often reflected in film, and I wish this theme had gone further in the film. But it didn’t.

As visibility for the transgender community grows more prevalent, it’s great to see movies like The Danish Girl even be realized. Having representation onscreen is a positive thing; it’d just be better if it were a good movie.

Ex Machina (2015)

Somewhere between M.C. Escher sketches and Stanley Kubrick nightmares lies the contemporary classic sci-fi Ex Machina.

Caleb, a young programmer at a Google/Apple-esque tech powerhouse, is recruited by its CEO Nathan on a special assignment. He is flown by helicoptor to Nathan’s secluded home, a sleek labyrinth of glass and stone, to perform the Turing Test on Nathan’s new Artificial Intelligence creation: Ava. In a series of sessions, Caleb meets with Ava, a robot with a lean, white female appearance, to test whether she passes the test for Artificial Intelligence and thinking for “herself.” These discussions are recorded on video, and Caleb checks in regularly with Nathan to fill him in on his progress.

What Caleb doesn’t share is when the power goes out and the cameras cease to function, or so he is told by Nathan and later Ava. The Ava under surveillance of her creator is calm and complacent, while the off-camera Ava flirts with Caleb and warns him that Nathan is not to be trusted.

Ex Machina is a spellbinding power play not only between these three figures, but between the film and us, the audience. The three main players are never fully honest with each other, and we the audience feel somewhat in the dark on the action before us.

For some movies, this disconnect can seem frustrating, but for Ex Machina it becomes all the more thrilling. There is an exciting irony in a story concerning emotional manipulation between man and robot, told through a medium of fake, recorded images manipulating our senses. We fall for this story, as we do any piece of fiction, just as the characters fall for the others’ emotional trickery.

This film contains echoes of Kubrick in visual style and foreboding intensity, but Ex Machina‘s nomination for Best Original Screenplay is a highly deserved one. There isn’t really a film like this, and it was so exhilarating to watch a movie unfold and you have no idea where it’s going. I’m confident a second visit to Ex Machina will uncover even more layers than I’ve written here, but this initial viewing was a terrific experience with one of the most surprising and truly spellbinding thrillers I’ve seen in recent memory.