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Hedwig and the Angry Inch

September 6, 2010

I will say it first: I’m not a movie critic or review expert; however—this movie by John Cameron Mitchell is an amazing piece of work. I’ve watched it half a dozen times now and every time I am completely mesmerized. John Cameron Mitchell stars in the movie and wrote the script, and Stephen Trask is the lyricist and musical director for some of the most intense and moving music I’ve ever heard. Mitchell’s voice is…..indescribably perfect. His portrayal of Hedwig as first an androgynous young man and then a transgender musician and back again, searching and searching and searching for his missing half is a stunning performance. This movie asks a lot of questions and leaves the viewer to fill in the blanks, but the eyes of Hedwig/Mitchell tell the tale, as they are pools of the soul, portals to the pain.

And the movie is all about the self and how one struggles to be whole, and about the love we all seek and need but never quite really find because it hurts too much to look at it straight on, like the sun—it will blind you if you really see it. The recipient of pure love can only accept it completely for a second before turning away; anything longer will kill him.

And Mitchell almost kills the viewer with those eyes. The only reason he doesn’t is because we’re tangential recipients of their power; they’re not meant for us to look at directly. We only feel the searing edges.

But you’re left wondering “What if….those eyes were really searching mine?” “What if…I could really feel what he is feeling?” Could I live through it?

And of course the movies that matter to us most are those that touch closest to home. A very personal thing about this film for me is the portrayal of how life just carries us along. We keep making the best decisions we can every day, but we remain hostage to so many things—our culture, our place of birth, our economic condition, our lost childhood innocence, wrong paths thought to be right, and on and on. And this film touches so many things that I’m not now, but once was—-musically and physically creative and in touch with a different self, a self that was not this person that I am now. “What if….” my life had started someplace else, someplace where the world of art and music and dance was at my fingertips from the beginning! “What if….” my life hadn’t been bogged down by the weight of Christian fundamentalism slowly snuffing out that burning light I once had inside to sing and dance and paint and FEEL—yes, FEEL— life instead of just living it responsibly the way I was expected to. What if….. And Hedwig has a lot of “what if’s” weighing down his world, like most of us do, and that is how this film pulls the viewer in.

The first time I saw the musical “Chicago” when I was about 40, I sat in my seat and wept. I had never seen professional dancers like that, and without even trying I suddenly envisioned myself up there, one of the dancing muscle boys in the back with those unbelievable Bob Fosse moves, the crowd stunned by my look, and never before had it hit home so hard that it was too late for me. Life carried me too far too fast, and I missed something that mattered to me more than I knew; my memory suddenly flooded with those dance recitals as a boy, recitals suddenly abandoned at age nine at the discovery that Jesus would not approve.

And watching Hedwig I know the other thing I missed, because when I was young I used to sing and sing and sing, and FEEL the music so deep it almost killed me; I needed it to live, I needed it to breathe, I needed it to find myself. And the last scene of this movie, the final transformation of Hedwig, is the thing I need that will never happen; the full awareness of not who I am now, but who I once was; I had a specific path that was best for me, but it was not the path taken. Like a pluripotent stem cell my environment turned off my potential in many directions and eventually locked me into a certain path of development. It was a good path, but once on it everything else faded away. I became really good at being the sort of cell I now appear to be, but inside, those suppressed genes are still raging against their shackles. Sometimes I hear them begging for the key to be let out, their voices fading as the years go by. I will never be that singer and dancer I should have been; I will never be that happy-go-lucky, totally self aware creative little genius I was as a little boy; little by little life compressed him into someone else.

Not that it matters; it’s the story of nearly everyone’s life and nothing to fret about, just something to know.
And it’s good to be reminded—though bittersweet—that life is nothing if not a series of compromises, and we should always just do the best we can. For most of us that should be enough.

Meanwhile, Hedwig, stop staring into my eyes… know it can kill.

From → Movie Reviews

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