Korean-American comic Magaret Cho used to bitterly joke that, due to racism and sexism, she would never be cast as the romantic lead across from Robert Redford. I argued that neither racism nor sexism were to blame, but that she was physically unsuitable for such roles, just as I considered myself unsuitable for the parts that went to guys like Robert Redford. There was no Hollywood conspiracy against the average-looking person, but movies were a glamorous business, and even the actors who played gnarly characters were generally better looking than the man in the street. Or at least more physically imposing.
So I wondered how someone who couldn’t act, couldn’t sing, and was ugly as sin was cast as Marius in “Les Miserables.” Even in a film as notoriously ill-cast as Tom Hooper’s disastrous 2012 version of the exquisitely popular musical adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel, Eddie Redmayne’s presence as Cosette’s handsome lover was abominable. But according to Hooper’s skewed aesthetis of beauty, Redmayne was suitable not only for Marius, but to play Cosette as well.
Even before Redmayne’s Einar Wegener starts passing himself off as the pretty Lili Elbe in Hooper’s “The Danish Girl,” his physical repulsiveness makes it impossible to believe in him as the beloved husband of the Swedish actress Alicia Vikander, who played the seductive robot in “Ex Machina.” But when he starts dressing in female gear, any suspension of disbelief buckles like a badly built bridge in a hurricane. Granted, the real life Lili Elbe was no flaming beauty, but Redmayne’s impersonation is a walking horror.
The real Lili Elbe Eddie Redmayne in drag
Although the story is quite tragic, and many will find it shatteringly so, especially when seeing it through the perspecitive of recent victories in the battle for equal rights of the gay, lesbian, and transgendered communities, “The Danish Girl” left me unmoved. While images such as Dirk Bogarde’s make-up grotesqely melting in the heat as he awaits his death on the beach in “Death in Venice,” will haunt me forever, Redmayne’s wilting face is something I wanted to get away from as quickly as possible, never to recall. I realize that to the sensitive reader I might be sounding a bit like Donald Trump, but movies are literally false surfaces and not representative of three-dimensional reality. All the viewer has to go on is the physical appearance of the actor and how skillfully the actor can imbue his physicality with the invisible stuff of soul and emotion. Were Redmayne a decent actor, he might be able to transcend the shortcomings of his mortal shell. As it is, the spectator has no recourse but to look away.