Coauthored by: Samantha Hunt

“We are all strangers to ourselves.” Rene Descartes

Many times we are told, “life is a journey”.  As we walk along a path that can include joys and struggles, we are provided the opportunity to gather data along the way.   We become explorers in search to better understand the complexities of what makes one who we are.  Within this quest, we may ponder regarding what one enjoys and what brings about pain and disappointments.  Ultimately, we may question whether one expresses an authentic self.  Are we content in the manner of our expression?  Do we live a life that represents our inner core, or do we live a life considering who we believe we ought to be?  Most importantly, is there any utility in self-knowing?  Does it lead to a better quality of life?  Within the film The Danish Girl we witness, Lili Elbe’s, (loosely inspired upon her life), transformation upon her path of self-awareness and self-knowledge with the support of loved ones. 

            Lili Elbe, performed by Eddie Redmayne, is introduced as Einar Wegener, a painter in this biographical romantic drama directed by Tom Hopper (2015).  Living and working alongside his wife Gerda, acted by Alicia Vikander, Einar is able to discover Lili, the gender identity of a woman; leading to the pursuit of saying goodbye to the identity of Einar and embarking on the life of Lili.  We can gain motivation for self-knowledge at various times in life, influenced by diverse reasons.  At times, an increased investment in understanding oneself becomes the result of a felt dissatisfaction in the way in which one is living; there is a desire for change, which can bring about evolution (Voorehoeve, et al, 2011).   At other times, one may lack a desire to change or evolve; rather one must have greater attunement in order to make an important decision in ones life (Voorhoeve,, 2011).  As Einar became increasingly aware of Lili, we view conflicts experienced: a desire to avoid, a desire to hide, fear of rejection, fear of being “found out”, and finally contentment in the self-knowing.  There can be times when we want to learn ourselves and times when we don’t know or understand what is driving us, possibly we are aware, but we do not wish to know what drives us (Voorhoeve, et al, 2011).  Because we may have limited access to our true selves, others may have a better sense as to who we are and why we behave in specific ways (Kamm, 2011) while offering interpersonal input to assist in creating an authentic narrative through great introspection. Consequently, we find Lili did not travel upon her journey independently.  Rather, she had the privilege of having access to supportive individuals in her life, both Gerda and Einar’s childhood friend, Hans Axgil (performed by Matthias Schoenaerts).  

            To progress self-knowing, it is helpful to have the loving honest eyes of others.  Our understanding of ourselves is “inseparable from the perception…of others” (Rass, 2011). Though, we must take care in who we place trust in to provide input, as individuals can hold stereotypes for specific behaviors and the influences of society can impact feeling welcomed to learn and express one’s genuine self.  In response to these influences by persons and global communities, one may resort to suppressing one true self at risk of rejection or harm.   Further, building one’s narrative to communicate to others who we are begins with a certain point of view.  Ensuring that the perspective(s) in connection with the creation of the narrative accurately reflects one’s truth in a supportive manner can ultimately impact one’s ability to create a positive self-concept and display a positive self-esteem and regard.  Lastly, an equally important ingredient includes the ability to be introspective.  Introspection can be a constant thread that elucidates self-awareness by having a greater ability to become aware of both our desires and ourselves globally. 

  “There are many versions of the truth about one’s life and many narratives that might make sense to a person” (Voorhoeve, et al. 2011, p.138).  Because of our complexity as humans, it is not always easy or a welcoming experience to grow our understanding of our self.  What we find can be painful, disappointing and believed to create challenges within the world in which we navigate with others who may not be ready to accept who we are.  Within the film The Danish Girl, we find Lili arrives at self-knowing by the help of unwavering support and love that provides her with fulfillment and peace.  Might we all be so brave…might we all be so lucky?


Kamm, F.M. (2011). Understanding, justifying, and finding oneself. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1234, 168-172.

Rass, J.D., R. (2011). Introduction to perspectives on the Self: Conversations on identity and consciousness. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1234, 1-4.

Voorhoeve, A., During, E., Jopling, D., Wilson, T. & Kamm, F. (2011). Who am I? Beyond “I think, therefore I am”. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1234, 134-148.