04 January 2008

Hedwig and the Angry Inch ร็อคลั่นโลก

Had it not been for the peer-reviewing of a paper, I wouldn't have had a chance to watch this film. That's true, otherwise you would've found me slaving away behind a stack of exam papers to be marked. Watching this film is clearly a therapeutic experience, as it's a feel-good film that is not too melodramatic with a drag character finally able to stand on his two feet receiving standing ovation from the crowd around in the Jerry Springer show. No, it's nothing like that. I wouldn't say it's realistic either. But it chooses to resolve the question of sexual identity in a very interestingly optimistic way. (Now I'm sure a lot of people out there would beg to differ.)

Being queer has always been problematic and, I'm glad to hear, a great number of queer theorists prefer to keep it that way. Hedwig is, at the beginning, compared to the Berlin Wall that keeps the two sexes apart, i.e. he functions as an in-between watermark whereby femininity and masculinity are pitched against. Yet, people hate the wall as the wall separates the two sexual identities from each other. No wonder Hedwig hates himself too. This homophobic tendency reveals itself at the beginning when he decides to undergo a sex change operation, which leaves him 'angry' inch-long flesh where his penis used to be.

Why angry? Because with this sex change he can neither be male nor female. He no longer conforms to social categories that enable him to feel a secure sense of belonging. If we believe what Mary Douglas has suggested in Purity and Danger, this feeling of anger is generated by his inability to put himself in any of the social pigeonholes that have been created by white bourgeois men in their forties or fifties, the group of which is infamously and allegedly powerful enough to control the fate of the mass. This neither-nor position thus creates cynicism and anger.

However, what I think is important is how Hedwig resolves his anger. If his sexuality has been a cause for anger as the public has always viewed him as a freak, his ability to reinscribe a new meaning of his sexuality, or at least to bestow a new attitude towards his queerness, is something worth looking into. I believe that Hedwig doesn't finally think that people should view him as an ideal alpha-queer that is able to rule the world (even though in reality we DO have a lot of alpha-queers who rule the world!), but should at least allow him space for his bodily/sexually reimagining. Of course, they do in the film -- through his lovely songs, which, if you care to notice and put them side by side, relates his growth and maturity. It'd then not be too far-fetched to label this film Hedwig's own Bildungsroman.

The ending sees Hedwing gradually losing his anger as he has slowly learnt the meaning of his life. Of course, his reason for being (I prefer the French term --raison d'etre) is not to win Tommy Gnosis' love, but to learn (i.e. to know -- 'gnosis' means knowing) who he really is -- a body with desire. And it's not a unified body, but a fragmentary one at that. And it's not a unidirectional desire, but an multi-directional, uncontrollable and unfulfillable (if there's such a word!) one. It's not perfect, but he needs to cope nonetheless with this far-from-perfect state (as we've seen in the last scene when he's struggling to walk nakedly through an empty alleyway). Of course it's painful but it's a stage where queers need to go through. And there's beauty in this struggling, in the same way that there's something sweet and hauntingly good in his music. This is what I would call the shift in attitude, from a really bad pessimism to a tolerable optimism -- 'as good as it gets' is probably the best phase that fits here.

Another thing that gives his life meaning is his capacity as a psychopomp for Yitzhak and Tommy as they learn to shape their sexuality. I don't mean that Hedwig will become more like a coach but three of them need each other to work together and it's only in this spirit of friendship that a tolerable sexuality in an imperfect body can be imagined.

Well, you can see that I'm in a good mood today. That's why this review is so positive. Hedwig and the Angry Inch reminds me of Transamerica, a film that I hope to review somewhere sometime somehow ...

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