I can’t get my hands on a copy of The Danish Girl through Netflix until March. As a result, I decided to finally do something I promised on this site last August. That being, among other things, that I would review the film I Want What I Want. I came across this film on a list of Queer Cinema I found on Letterboxd. Well, it’s sort of a transgender movie. Kind of. Not exactly. More like a feminist film from the early 1970s that happens to have a trans woman at the center of it. If that sent shivers down your spine, then you are probably transgender like myself.
Before we actually get to this film we need to look at the full DVD title for it: “I don’t want to live the rest of my life as a man…I want what I want…to be a woman.”
First off, she always was a woman. Trans women are women. End of story. Any mythical idea of transition is only to make ourselves feel more comfortable with who we are. That means we don’t have to do anything whatsoever and we are women. The same goes for trans men. A point lost on people even today so I guess I can let it slide in 1972 even though I don’t want to.
Secondly, was it necessary for Geoff Brown, who wrote the book, and the filmmakers to choose the same words for their title as what a child would say when their parents ask why they need a Wii U in addition to the PS4 and Xbox One they already own? The answer of course being no. They wanted to sell tickets. The same reason Doris Wishman entitled her 1977 mondo movie Let Me Die A Woman. Well, at least the DVD cover is very honest about what you are going to see, right?
See! The cover clearly shows us that a genetic male played by Harry Andrews will play the trans woman prior to transition as shown by the man standing in front of the mirror. Then Anne Heywood will take over to play the main role after the transition as shown by the woman in the mirror.
Well, that DVD cover is a little misleading. By the way, if IMDb is to be believed, then this is how The Danish Girl was going to be except that cisgender woman would have been Nicole Kidman. Hmm….I guess that might have been better. Then the Women Film Critics Circle could have awarded their “Invisible Woman” award (performance by a woman whose exceptional impact on the film dramatically, socially or historically, has been ignored) to the person playing the titular trans woman character instead of Alicia Vikander playing a cisgender woman who isn’t the “invisible woman” the movie is supposed to be about.
The movie begins and we see Roy played by Anne Heywood. Yes, I know the deadname thing and all, but at this point in the film she hasn’t chosen a female name. She’s looking out at the women passing by, some who are talking amongst themselves, and others are talking with men. She doesn’t look happy. For trans women who aren’t happy with their bodies and/or presentation, we call this everyday of the week. At least I do.
Now Roy leaves her office. She walks down the street looking at some women and female clothes in a window before passing right through a visual metaphor.
We go home with Roy and once again are greeted with a visual metaphor.
I look over at my mirror and all I see in it is my reflection, a stack of unreviewed DVDs in the closet, a couple of prom dresses, and an Ao Dai. Hey! I took a course on the history of Vietnam in college and those Vietnamese dresses are gorgeous. Don’t you judge me! No seriously, I do own one of those. The prom dresses are another story. But now it’s time for Roy to go downstairs so we can meet her sister Shirley played by Virginia Stride.
This is as good a time as any to bring up two things to do with the voices in this movie:
1. The audio on the DVD isn’t perfect. It has some issues that combined with British accents can cause you to miss a word here or there if you aren’t say, British yourself. I grew up watching Are You Being Served? with some of those accents, and even I had trouble with these otherwise very easy to process accents.
2. You are probably wondering what Anne Heywood sounds like. If you’re close to my age (32), or grew up in the 1980s, then I have a good way for you to picture how she sounds. It’s like the movie Just One Of The Guys (1985). Trying a little bit to deepen the voice, but largely just altering the presentation towards something stereotypically masculine.
Now we meet dad played by Harry Andrews. He’s not so happy with Roy. Hey, it could be worse dad. Roy could grow a mustache and then your “son” would look a little like Rita Pavone in Rita The Field Marshall (1967).
Honestly, that’s what I expected when I found out this movie had Anne Heywood playing a trans woman and saw a picture of her on the back cover.
I get the next scene. It makes sense. Roy is babysitting for her sister and looks at her clothes as well as her wig. That all makes sense to me. What doesn’t make sense is why this was the final shot they chose to go with when Roy’s sister comes home.
Roy, you’re trying to seduce me. Aren’t you? Even Elizabeth Shue was more presentable at the end of Adventures In Babysitting (1987).
Regardless, now we get a scene of Roy at work. It doesn’t really matter what she does. All you need to know in that department is that she has money of her own.
If we weren’t sure the Dad was an asshole, then we get a scene of Roy and him at the grocery store. Basically, the entire scene is Dad telling Roy to leave the upcoming dinner party early so he can go out with a woman.
Then the film reminds us it’s arty, but without water falling from the sky like in Laurence Anyways (2012).
Next Roy is having a conversation with this woman about fashion. The woman is obviously interested and likes him. She will even state this explicitly in the next scene. So why does the father look upset? I mean assuming I buy into all the BS out there about men, which I don’t, wouldn’t this guy love that his “son” is being so devious and taking advantage of women’s supposed only interest to potentially get laid? One of the other guys at the table even points out that Roy is doing very well “for someone who hasn’t been keeping up with the mark.” I guess it’s just supposed to tell us he is already suspicious. Came across as a little weird to me.
After another shot from the top of the table, it’s time to separate the men from the women for the after dinner part. The women seem to like it because it means they “can tear them to pieces” afterwards. Now we cut to Dad who apparently is in the middle of a lecture. He says “there’s change for a reason, then there’s change just for the sake of change.” I totally agree with the man. I don’t buy the universal app excuse from Twitter for the new iPad app. I also don’t appreciate the YouTube app looking like a Speak ‘N Spell.
Anyways, we now see the Dad try and make a move on a woman in a car. I’m sorry, but once you’ve seen Ruthless People (1986), then it’s a little hard to look at this…
and not think of Bill Pullman throwing up.
Now shit gets real cause Dad comes home with her, and after trying to feel her up, discovers the reality about Roy.
The review of this movie on the inside of the DVD by Dennis Dermody is right! The 1970’s really wasn’t the greatest era for women’s fashion. Also, she has heavy blue eyeshadow on. Maybe it’s just me, but after binge watching 7 seasons of Sabrina, The Teenage Witch last year where they seemed to wear nothing but blue eyeshadow, I’m a little sick of it. Also, I would take this otherwise cringe worthy scene more seriously if it didn’t end with Roy leaving with enough money to be completely independent and start presenting as a woman in the blink of an eye. In reality, things like this end with far more deadly outcomes such as the suicide of Leelah Alcorn in December of 2014.
I do like that throughout all of this anger and beating, Roy stands up for herself. She even gives the right answer about how long it’s been going on. She says, “All my life”. Technically that’s not true for all trans women, but some do figure it out quite early like Jazz Jennings. He threatens her with cures. Then he asks her if she’s a homosexual. That means he’s actually asking if she’s straight. Her response is “no”. That would mean she’s a lesbian, but the movie is wishy washy about her sexuality. However, I believe she is meant to be straight.
We now find out that Roy’s mother is dead. She says it’s his fault and he throws her. Then he says that the Germans used to send people like her to the gas chambers. She responds that they used to decorate “people like you”. There’s another line here, but then…yeah…here’s the line after that one:
“God made man in his own image, and he blew it.”
That’s when you start to realize this is less of a transgender film and more a feminist one. Unfortunately, a nasty feminist one considering the ending. Some of you probably reasoned out what that is, but I will get to it eventually for everyone else.
Roy flees for good. Makeover!
I actually appreciate this scene. So many movies spend all the time in the world making it seem like heels are the hardest thing in the world, but almost never mention makeup or anything else.
This movie even has her have difficultly putting on a bra. Makes sense. She is doing it from the back, which takes some practice and no one was around to teach her the trick of doing it in the front, then simply turning the bra around. Of course this movie absolutely couldn’t do that because Anne Heywood may have put up with binding for the film, but she isn’t going to have chest reconstruction surgery. Although, they do use a male stand-in later for a brief shot, but that doesn’t count because the movie will also show her with a woman’s figure for one scene even though there’s no mention of hormones.
There’s another limitation too caused by hiring a genetic girl for the role. Unless we are going to put fake hair on her legs and arms, then we really can’t show her shave them without breaking the illusion.
Let me just tell you now that they don’t show a fake penis unlike more recent films and TV Shows have. Thank God! Anyone who has or has had one only needs to see that fake penis twice and the illusion is broken. Unless the film uses multiple fake penises, which I haven’t seen done, then the movie has a penis that will look identical every single time it’s shown. The penis don’t work that way.
Finally she’s ready! Meet Wendy Ross.
That Girl! Unfortunately, this film will tell her she’s not what every girl should be till the unfortunate ending.
She goes around town and seems to pass just fine. She’s a little nervous about her voice, but that doesn’t appear to be a problem. Even a police officer calls her “Miss”. Then those damn visual metaphors attack again.
Hmm…I had no idea that the UK had a large giant female population in the 1970s. Think this is going to lead to anything? Well, you’re out of luck. All that happens is a couple of guys who were clearly just about 10 years early to appear in Fulci’s The New York Ripper (1982) and Gorris’ A Question of Silence (1982) scare her, causing her to run into the “Ladies Room”. Nothing happens in there. No bathroom usage. She just washes her hands and says something that is incomprehensible to a woman in there. I think she is saying “driving a truck”, but that makes no sense and it is just a guess.
After a few more lines to remind us men are pigs and all that, we get this shot to make sure you don’t forget feminism.
Can’t leave out the novel that is credited with starting the second wave of feminism which had people like Gloria Steinem referring to trans women as…don’t want to spoil the ending.
Wendy gets herself a room adjoining with another girl in the house of a woman named Margaret (Jill Bennett). Margaret is married to man named Philip (Philip Bond) and works as a teacher. She is friendly with a man named Frank (Michael Coles) as well. I’m still confused about his character in relation to Margaret. I get the impression she is or wants to have an affair with him…maybe…this movie can be a little tough. What I’m not confused about is this shot.
It’s not uncommon for a trans woman or a trans man to start dressing in the “appropriate” clothing, but go over the top at the start. That’s my story of the prom dresses. However, this will be a running thing throughout the film to differeniate Wendy from other women. Note that by comparison, she looks like a 1950s housewife/hausfrau next to this clearly modern day 1970s woman. It’s the girl she’s living next to.
Think maybe the hausfrau comment is too much. Don’t worry, cause in one of the scenes almost immediately after this Margaret says the word herself to describe herself while serving drinks at a party. She also says that Wendy is “all a front” to Frank. I don’t think she actually knows, but the line is dropped in there anyways the second Wendy pays attention to Frank. Oh, and then she says, “The only thing that sets Wendy apart from us is she has a private income.”
I know all this can be chalked up to general cattiness if you will over a guy they are both interested in, but it all kind of weaves together into something that doesn’t go down all that well. Then we get this scene.
Basically the scene is there to remind us that Margaret is very much a feminist. She talks down about women who are pretty and dumb as happy to be considered inferior, but that if you show any independence or a mind of your own that you’ll be determined as unfeminine. Okay, so she’s a little angry. So of course they have Wendy respond that she likes bras and wouldn’t mind depending. In other words, they make sure you know how much Wendy stands in contrast to Margaret. Margaret responds to what Wendy says by telling her that she’s a “strange girl”. Don’t worry, we’re getting to the wonderful ending, but first another assault by a visual metaphor.
Wendy goes to get a job. What kind of a job you might ask? A beautician. Why? We know she has plenty of experience in other areas since we saw her in a business position earlier. Yes, I’m aware that in Boy Meets Girl (2014) she does fashion. Yes, I’m aware that in Orange Is The New Black they have Laverne Cox doing the other girls’ hair. However, this follows immediately after she’s called strange and all but unacceptable by Margaret. She doesn’t get the job. Then the film goofs.
That is a woman’s figure. A genetic male’s body doesn’t get into that shape without hormones, which this film has given us no indication to tell us she’s on. In fact, later she is told by a doctor that her thinking she is growing breasts is imaginary. That is also when they use a male stand-in to emphasize that fact, which also has a straight up and down figure.
By the way, she’s tucking in this scene. I use a gaff personally. It’s basically a strong pair of panties that pulls down, flattens, and also in the process, pops your testicles back into your body. Some use surgical tape to hold the penis between the legs. An example of that on film is in the Danish movie A Soap (2006). This is the first time I’ve seen tucking done this way by what appears to be her wrapping everything in a gauze of some sort. Whatever works for you. The penis is the primary issue, not the testicles. They really do just pop away. Heck, Sumo wrestlers do that before a match to protect them.
Time to visit Sis! I love that when Wendy’s sister calls her Roy, she responds by saying that she’ll call her Sam then. Oh, and Sis does mess up once after being told that and immediately is met with the name Sam. Notice again, the strong difference in clothes. Her sister even digs into her about how she looks. Sis even suggests a cure to which Wendy says, “I am cured.” Doesn’t dig into me, but the correct response would be to say I was never sick. Gone too long without a visual metaphor?
The sister brings up that women’s clothes are similar to men’s clothes nowadays. Wendy says that she doesn’t care. Wendy says, “If women’s clothes were made out of old sacking. I’d want to wear them.” Again, that feminist stuff slipping in here by making her seem superficial and not a real woman for wanting to wear stereotypically feminine clothes. And again in contrast to a cisgender woman in modern 1970s clothes who even has a baby to prove she’s a genetic girl.
Now we get Frank acting like a jerk. It’s relatively light-hearted actually, but of course Wendy is deathly afraid of anyone finding out. Then it gets dark literally and figuratively.
Tossing down a lamp she seems furious that she is attracted to a man. She says nasty things about herself such as being fake, a bitch, and insane.
That scene ends quickly and she tries to borrow money from her sister to go see a doctor. She asks her sister to not tell the baby about her. She says to just let the baby believe what she sees. She gives a nice speech here about not committing any crimes or doing anything wrong. Of course she shouldn’t have to say that or specifically mention she isn’t having any kind of sexual relations. She does say that though.
Now we meet the doctor. We are very near the end of the film.
You could probably do a whole post picking apart only this part of the film if you wanted to. I don’t.
The doctor is not all bad by any means. However, he basically does do two things:
1. Makes it clear that nothing will make her a real woman. By that I mean someone who will 100% pass as a genetic girl even under the scrutiny of a man.
2. That it will take a long time and a lot of work before she will be granted the chance to have bottom surgery. This is an area that is a difficult thing. This can be blatant gatekeeping. Other people deciding your life against your will. However, this is not something I believe should be tossed aside completely either. It is important for the person involved to be given a chance to basically vet themselves. For example, a lot of trans women don’t have bottom surgery. They just decide it’s not important to them. Same goes for trans men. Watch the movie Mr. Angel (2013) about the male porn star Buck Angel. If you come away with nothing else, it’s that Buck loves his vagina. Also, you are asking surgeons to permanently alter your body in a rather significant way. We aren’t talking about a boob job here. We’re talking about something that if done in haste could put you in a David Reimer situation. He was a boy that lost his penis in a botched circumcision, had his parents told to raise him as a girl, figured it out, transitioned back, there’s a book, he went on Oprah, and then killed himself. I think some of this is okay, but it often can be taken way too far and push people to take drastic actions. In this case, she is told that it’s going to take a full year of being analyzed.
She leaves and goes to pack. She has a line here that says: “Is the point of no return the only point.” I read this as meaning she is considering that she doesn’t have to have surgery to be a real woman. However, she then follows that with lines about how she could wake up one morning and find she’s a middle aged man. The gist is that the surgery is that important to her, but she seems to have given up even if that means being a woman only in her own head. She also mentions about not buying more clothes because it means living beyond her means and her sex. Again the feminist thing there.
Now Frank enters the room. This part alone is tough to sit through. What’s weird is that they really haven’t established a relationship on his end. We get Wendy’s side, but he’s barely been in the movie. He tries to kiss her to strongly tell her how much he loves her and to not leave. She is into it at first, then becomes repulsed by herself. She doesn’t believe anyone can really love her. They don’t really make it clear at first, but Frank glances down slightly, then gets violent. He kicks her where it hurts. She goes down and takes a mirror with her which breaks. Here’s the ending…sort of.
She appears to cut off her genitals with a shard of glass. I mentioned Gloria Steinem before. She and other feminists of her time referred to trans women as people who mutilate themselves. That’s not all she said either. I don’t care to go into that any further. It’s a huge mess even to this day.
However, I did say “sort of” for a reason. The movie is still going.
That’s right! She’s alive! Didn’t bleed out or anything. Suddenly she’s just in a hospital bed where she acts like that was a dream or maybe wasn’t. She says, “She was confused for a moment”. She says, “It was about a year ago she woke up in a bed like this.” Regardless, the doctor tells her the operation was a success and that he’ll check in again with her later. He calls her “Miss Ross”.
We now cut to a regular room and find that she has a proper passport now. She’s not in a hospital. Then she says, “I must always remember. How lucky I am to be a girl.” And cut to the end of Working Girl (1988)…
as the camera zooms out from the window till it stops and the credits roll. Yes, I know that’s also the ending of King Vidor’s The Crowd (1928).
So if I am reading this right. She tried to cut off her genitals, but failed and survived. She had bottom surgery, which made her a real woman in the eyes of the British government. Then she ends the film by saying how lucky she is to be a girl? What? You mean as opposed to the men who she said earlier were made in God’s image which he screwed up? This was supposed to be a transgender movie, right? It certainly has a lot of the elements, but there really is this constant anti-man thing going on here. It’s more like the story of a woman who is trapped in a man’s world. She tries to become a woman be merely adorning herself with the appearance of a woman. She is berated for not essentially being a modern woman/feminist. The person who ultimately drives her to a suicidal action is a man. Then she wakes up with female genitalia, accepted as a woman, and says to herself that she must remember she is lucky not to finally be living as the gender she is, not to be accepted as woman, or anything that makes sense. She says she must remember she is lucky not to be a man.
And to drive all this home about her being lucky not to be a man.
She says the line after she picks up and looks at the picture of, to the best of my knowledge, her dead mother. The mother she said her father drove to death.
What I do love about all this is that the movie with the ending like this is quite similar to A Clockwork Orange that came out one year prior to this film. The two books are separated by 4 years. Alex has an apparent disease and is given a superficial cure that opens him up to hatred by society and in the end is driven to a suicidal action that truly cures him. In his case it returned him to his previous state. However, the book actually has an additional 21st chapter where Alex decides to give up his violent ways. In I Want What I Want, a woman with an apparent disease gives herself a superficial cure that opens her up to hatred by society and in the end is driven to a suicidal action that truly cures her. Yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a little borrowing going on here.
I’d be really remiss if I didn’t mention that according to the review of the film inside the DVD box it says that the director was quoted as saying: “I am known to be difficult, British, homosexual and expensive and whilst I can, with modified rapture, admit to the first three charges, the last is deeply wounding.” Also according to that review, the author of the book Geoff Brown wrote only one other book which was about a schizophrenic. Both things could have played a role in how this film turned out.
You can say a lot of things about this movie, the DVD itself, the box, the reviews, my own review, etc. What you can’t say though is that Anne Heywood didn’t give it her all here. She did. I may not like what I saw in the film, but she did a good job with very difficult material.
I don’t recommend the film. I just can’t. But if you think you can handle it, then just like Let Me Die A Woman, it’s a historical curiosity.