The Stranger’s Always You

hedwig

A few years ago I discovered John Cameron Mitchell’s movie adaptation of his stage play, Hedwig and the Angry Inch.  Actually, I first watched it after I had ended something that I now wouldn’t even say had any semblance of a relationship…but at the time I was hurt.  In the wake of everything that has happened recently, I have found myself suddenly turning back to this movie.  I have’t listened to the songs or watched it in about two years, but after watching it again only just recently, I realize how perfect a play and film Mitchell created.

hedwigmore

At first glance, the posters and trailer make one think of the flamboyant glam-rock film, The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  It certainly portrays a lead character who demands attention, but this film and its music are vastly different from Rocky Horror.  The central concepts center on identity, human complexity, love, and understanding what “wholeness” is.  Mitchell created a story based on a character who believes love from another will form the missing other half to the whole.  One of the songs, “Origin of Love,” is an illustration of this, pulling from Aristophanes speech in Plato’s Symposium explaining heterosexuals, homosexuals, and their longing to feel “whole.”  The story is that in ancient times human beings existed as three different types of creatures: male/male, female/female, and male/female.  Much like in other religions, notably Christianity and Judaism, humans made a costly mistake in trying to acquire too much knowledge (similar to Adam and Eve, the story of the Tower of Babylon, etc), and so Zeus sent thunderbolts to split the beings in two, causing them to then forever feel compelled to “find their missing other half.”

hedwig

In Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Hansel is a young man living in Communist East Berlin who falls in love with an American solider.  In order to marry the soldier and leave the country, Hansel must get a sex-change operation to fool doctors that he is actually a woman.  Note: he did not previously feel like a woman trapped in a man’s body.  The operation is botched, and what remains is something in-between male and female.  After moving to the United States, the solider leaves Hansel–now Hedwig, using his mother’s name–for another man.  Alone and devastated, Hedwig picks herself up and begins odd-jobs and writing music, sometimes performing with local military wives.  She meets Tommy Speck, a quiet, very Christian young man, and the two begin writing music together and falling in love.  Hedwig teaches Tommy about rock music and gives him the name, Tommy Gnosis (Gnosis being the Greek word for “knowledge”).  Tommy ends up rejecting Hedwig for her physical deformity from the operation and runs off with Hedwig’s music and claims it as his own, rising to stardom.  Hedwig now has her own band, and is in the middle of a lawsuit to reclaim what is rightfully hers.  She is caught between her desire to be with Tommy, who she believes is her other half, and wanting to destroy him if she cannot be with him.  Ultimately, she receives justice and the fame and recognition deserved for her music.  In the end, she comes to realize there is no “other half,” and that “wholeness” comes from within.  Tommy and Hedwig part ways, and Hedwig leaves behind all the wigs, costumes, and makeup, and comes to terms with who he is.  My favorite song, Wicked Little Town, sung by Tommy to Hedwig as a form of apology in the end, probably boasts some of the most powerful lyrics in the entire show:

Forgive me for I did not know
’cause I was just a boy
And you were so much more

Than any god could ever plan
More than a woman or a man
And now I understand
How much I took from you
That when everything starts breaking down
You take the pieces off the ground
And show this wicked town
Something beautiful and new

You think that luck has left you there
But maybe there’s nothing
Up in the sky but air

And there’s no mystical design
No cosmic lover preassigned
There’s nothing you can find
That cannot be found
’cause, with all the changes you’ve been through
It seems the stranger’s always you

The line “You were so much more than any god could ever plan, more than a woman or a man,” really drives home the theme of human complexity.  Ultimately, we are not “destined” to be with anyone; we are whole as we are and life unfolds based on the consequences of our choices and actions.  Love comes not from the need to feel “complete,” but by feeling complete as we are.  None of the characters in the show can be easily defined, which makes them so much more human and real.  Not male, not female, not gay, not straight, but human.  This film is definitely highly unusual and non-traditional, but it has one of the best story-lines I have ever seen and the music is wonderful.  John Cameron Mitchell really drives it home with this one.  I highly recommend for anyone who likes off-beat films with a sense of humor and a good message.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s