Hedwig: East Meets West

In Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Hedwig is first described “like [the] Berlin Wall/standing before you in the divide/between East and West.” (opening song, “Tear Me Down.” For those of you who don’t know Hedwig, she’s (in short) a transsexual who’s sex change operation got botched, leaving her with “an angry inch.”

One of the reasons that Hedwig is such a powerful character to me is that she’s a synthesis: of the two sexes, certainly, but two ways of thinking as well. In “The Origin Of Love,” she uses the myth from Plato’s Symposium that we in the west have come to associate with the traditional definition of soul mates. Briefly, Aristophanes’ tale recounts that humans were physically joined together, then split apart, resulting in our search for “our other half”. Even if we don’t know the mechanisms of the myth, the conclusion has resonated with Western culture throughout history. The search for the other half, the missing piece.

After she sings “The Origin of Love,” Hedwig says in voiceover “it is clear that I must find my other half.” The rest of the movie is essentially that quest, and in Tommy Gnosis, she thinks she has found it. He has the “same blue eyes” as her, and their union creates the songs played throughout the movie. His Christian, gnostic background provides a different perspective to the idea of soul mates, “When Eve was in Adam, they were in Paradise. When she re-enters Adam, Paradise will be regained.”

But at the end of the movie, after Tommy Gnosis has left her twice, and after her career has taken a fall and risen up again, and it seems that Hedwig is not destined to find her other half, she hears the strains of a song by Tommy Gnosis. It is a reprise of a song, “Wicked Little Town,” earlier sung by Hedwig. But the lyrics are changed. Hedwig’s earlier version carried much of the similar fatalistic undertones of The Origin of Love, “Lady luck has led you here.” Tommy Gnosis’ version, however, is an apology, an understanding of Hedwig’s quest, and again a different perspective:

And there’s no mystical design,
No cosmic lover preassigned.
There’s nothing you can find
that can not be found.

One of the final images of the film is a close up of Hedwig’s tattoo, an image that hearkens back to The Origin of Love, with two figures joined together.

John Cameron Mitchell, who wrote, directed, and starred in Hedwig, has purposely left the ending ambiguous. But to me, the tattoo on Hedwig’s body represents a fusing of complementary ideas, rationality working with mysticism, and in the end finding both, all, in herself.

“There ain’t much of a difference
between a bridge and a wall”
– from “Tear Me Down

What was once a divide, a clash of opposites, becomes an acceptance and merging of them within herself.


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