“Operate on the brain, perform a lobotomy — fine! But take a pair of testicles and everybody explodes!”
As a child, George Jorgensen (Trent Lehman) feels compelled to dress in girls’ clothing and play with dolls. His gender dysphoria becomes so acute as an adult that George (now played by John Hansen) travels to Denmark for a life-altering gender operation, and turns himself into “Christine”.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Gender Bending
- Irving Rapper Films
Based on Christine Jorgensen’s autobiography, this biopic about the first widely publicized transgender operation is undeniably campy, but not nearly as bad or melodramatic as you would think. In fact, the film actually got good ratings in the New York Times upon its release, with reviewer Roger Greenspun referring to it as a “quiet, even dignified little picture.” Christine’s solemn voice-over narration (“My father was wrong… For me, there were no tomorrows that weren’t filled with loneliness”) comes across as laughably stilted at times, but there’s no denying the sincerity behind her words. And while many of the scenes — Christine’s burgeoning romance with a journalist, for instance — don’t quite ring true, a surprising number (i.e., Christine’s interactions with her aunt) are poignant and heartfelt.
Unlike the real Christine Jorgensen, John Hansen isn’t lithe (or graceful) enough to pass as a woman, but he makes up for his physical limitations with a sympathetic performance. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Trent Lehman, the young actor playing George as a boy: his wooden acting (check out the forced, almost evil-looking smile on his face as he fondles a doll behind the Christmas tree!) shows why his movie career never took off. According to Jon C. Hopwood’s bio of Jorgensen on IMDb, Jorgensen — a Protestant — applied the ultimate “can do” attitude to her dilemma: because attraction to men as a man was unthinkable to George, he “made things right” by turning himself into a woman — thus, in an odd way, conforming to society’s norms and expectations. While I find this analysis intriguing, enough is known at this point about the origins of gender dysphoria to understand that George’s desire to be a woman ultimately stemmed from something much deeper than a desire simply to “fit in”.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- John Hansen’s sensitive portrayal as George/Christine
- Joan Tompkins as Christine’s understanding Danish aunt
- A sympathetic portrayal of gender dysphoria as a treatable, biological disorder
- A deliciously campy sensibility
Yes, simply for its status as a cult favorite.