Alicia Vikander’s role as Greda Wegener has won her this year’s Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her depiction of the wife and partner of Lili Elbe, one of the first people to undergo sex reassignment surgery, for the movie The Danish Girl. The stupendous actress has had two amazing years, being featured in several films including her titillating performance as Ava, the android with artificial intelligence, in the kick-ass sci-fi movie, Ex Machina, directed by Alex Garland. However, it is with this stunning role that she has just swept us all off our feet, not only because it has proved to us her potential as a bewildering actress, but also because it has served as tremendous help for the trans movement and the LGBTQ community.
Greda Wegener was the wife of acclaimed Dutch painter, Einar Wegener, in the early 20th century and Alicia Vikander plays this role in an astonishingly powerful way. Her co-star and (intended) main protagonist of the film, Eddie Redmayne, delivers a thrilling performance as a transwoman, but you will notice anyone who has watched the movie will quickly change the subject to how strong Vikander’s performance was- I even want to point out that she should have been nominated in the Best Actress categories rather than for Supporting Actress (which she won anyway for in the Critic’s Choice Awards, the SAG Awards and the Oscars last night). Her sincere performance steals the show because of how humanely she reacts to her husband’s reality. It is by overcoming her anger and confusion that she sets her husband free and powerfully gives the cisgender viewers a deep understanding of her situation, one we can finally empathise with due to her brutally convincing performance and the movie’s script. It is by allowing her role to be so radically important in this film that the work is not only story-telling but is also sending a beautiful and compelling message about transgender people. Thinking about having your partner tell you such crucial news about their identity is something we cannot even fathom, but it is her struggle as a partner and lover, and most importantly a friend, that leads her to accept the fact that her husband’s inner identity is female. It is her roller coaster of emotions, doubts and experiences that Greda has to live and go through that makes the viewer empathise and understand that this is possible and it will all be alright.
Most of the general public find trans issues very hard to understand and therefore accept. Body dysphormia is not something that we all experience, and understanding or being open to the idea that someone is born into the wrong body is complicated to say the least. However, it is the sheer notion of accepting someone’s true identity and being by their side to help them love themselves that is going to change the public’s notion of transgender. Cisgender people needed someone to identify with within this movement, someone that would boldly show them that being trans and loving someone trans is something that can be natural, beautiful and a challenge, but in the end a victory for freedom and acceptance. Vikander was the answer to all of that.
A lot of the times when I judge an actor or actress’ work, I tend to measure how in control they are, how deep they have gone within the character. But for Vikander in this performance, I thought of fragility, a frailty that goes hand in hand with an actor’s control of the character. She was so true to her human struggle to grapple with her emotions that she proved that her story is equally as emotionally compelling as her husband’s in this film. The Danish Girl took 15 years to make and it is just ever so special that it has been released at a moment of social change, when trans issues are at a peak. As Vikander said during the Oscar’s press conference, it is also an educational movie, one that will widen the conversation and open more doors for future LGBTQ movies to come.