“The sea’s the possibility,” sang Patti Smith in Land. For the Icelandic athlete Veiga Grétarsdóttir, her whole life has been about transformation and expanding possibilities. Director Oskar Pall Sveinsson’s documentary, Against the Current, tracks Grétarsdóttir’s attempt to overcome the seemingly impossible challenge of circumnavigating the 2000 kilometers of Iceland’s coastline on a kayak. And if that was not enough of a challenge, she attempts the feat by navigating against the current in a counterclockwise direction.
While the sea offers Grétarsdóttir the possibility of growth and accomplishment, it also contains the possibility of death. Rough waves, currents, and fog could make the explorer capsize. If she were to fall overboard into the freezing waters, it’d be fatal. In total, Grétarsdóttir’s circumnavigation should take 3 to 4 months. What makes Against the Current such a gripping story is that Grétarsdóttir’s attempt to master Iceland’s waters is not even her most arduous journey. Grétarsdóttir’s toughest journey began way before her kayak touched water.
Veiga Grétarsdóttir is a transgender woman. Growing up as Veigar, with brothers, gender roles were prescribed at a young age by her family and community. According to Grétarsdóttir, she overcompensated in her youth. She drank, smoked, got tattoos, went hunting, and drove trucks in a performative effort to adjust to a “male” gender role. The wearing of women’s clothes began around the age of 10. One day, her parents discovered the clothing.
“…Grétarsdóttir’s attempt to…[circumnavigate] the 2000 kilometers of Iceland’s coastline…”
They were so unaware of Grétarsdóttir’s desire to dress as a woman that they assumed it was the clothing of one of her many female conquests. Grétarsdóttir took to hiding the clothes inside stereo speakers and even behind the car’s radio. Eventually, Grétarsdóttir married a woman. When Grétarsdóttir admitted to her wife that she felt like a woman, her wife declared the marriage unsustainable. Grétarsdóttir then transitioned to Veiga.
Going against the current is a literal and metaphorical theme throughout Against the Current. The figurative sense is the tougher part of that journey. Grétarsdóttir had to deal with the risk of not being accepted as transgender by both family and work colleagues. Sveinsson magnificently captures Iceland’s natural beauty as Grétarsdóttir paddles along rugged Icelandic coastlines, getting glimpses of landscapes that few can experience in person. Sveinsson presents, in all its sublimity, the sea’s beauty, and deadly treachery, taking a loving, caring approach to Grétarsdóttir’s tale.
The sea has its currents, its flows. Our life journeys have their bottlenecks, their blockages, but also their currents, their flows. Veiga Grétarsdóttir faced some rough currents in her life journey. Her transition made her stronger, more at ease with herself, ready to overcome nature’s harshest challenges. She emerged not just as a transgender role model for those who have suffered through rejection and ostracism in their transition but also as an athlete worthy of our admiration. Her story should inspire all of us regardless of race, nationality, religion, or even gender. Against the Current shows that the possibilities are unlimited.
"…emerged not just as a transgender role model...but also as an athlete worthy of our admiration."