Gerda, played by Alicia Vikander (who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for this movie), is finishing a painting of an opera singer and asks her husband, Einar, played by Eddie Redmayne, to stand in for the sitter, Anna, played by Amber Heard. Einar puts on the dress and stockings and shoes, in the process Gerda unwittingly unleashes Einar’s transformation:
Einar could concentrate only on the silk dressing his skin, as if it were a bandage. Yes, that was how it felt the first time: the silk was so fine and airy that it felt like a gauze – a balm-soaked gauze lying delicately on healing skin. Even the embarrassment of standing before his wife began to no longer matter, for she was busy painting with a foreign intensity in her face. Einar was beginning to enter a shadowy world of dreams where Anna’s dress could belong to anyone, even to him.
This is the point in the story when Einar begins his transformation into the woman, Lili Elbe.
But how far, in the name of love, would Gerda go in her marriage with Einar/Lili? While Einar’s sex change may be the obvious focus, the film, tender and emphatic in it’s rendition, is essentially about exploring with the couple what is it that makes a marriage a marriage.
The movie is an adaptation of the rather tragic story of real life Danish artist couple Gerda and Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe in the 1920s. Accordingly, Einar/Lili was among the first to go under the knife in order to complete his physical transformation into a woman.