Hedwig & the Angry Inch -- plot/sequencing question


Okay, I am no slouch at decoding postmodern film and literature but I found the last quarter or so of Hedwig and the Angry Inch (film, not stage) jumbled, tedious, and hard to follow. Thus the last scene, with the “unified” tattoo and naked Hedwig/Hansel walking down the dark alley somewhere between incomprehensible and unearned. I exerienced the film as having neither justified resolution or a nice postmodern-unanswered-question tension. Please help me out here, and please tell me whether part of the problem was the translation from stage to screen, which appeared to me to blur symbolic and literal rather unproductively.

Here’s how I always took it (it’s been a while though, so I may be remembering incorrectly).
After the prostitution bust, Hedwig finally gets her acclaim. People recognize her brilliance and Tommy’s utter poseur status. Like most rock stars, though, this doesn’t resolve her underlying unhappiness. This is what tore apart her band and drove her friend Yizchak away; this is what prevented her from moving on from her failed marriage.

While the sex change is close to the core of this unhappiness, it is probably not its ultimate cause. Hedwig finally addresses the cause when she takes off her drag. In the commentary, Mitchell talks about how many drag queens were shocked and insulted at his breaking drag when he was trying out the Hedwig character in nightclubs. This is the crucial scene of the movie, and starkly makes a distinction: Hedwig is not a transvestite, she is not a woman, but she is Hansel, a man.

As such, my guess is that the movie is a message on being a gay male and not a transvestite and not intersex. The drag and the operation (Hedwig) were distractions that allowed Hansel to avoid living as a gay male, by providing him a role as a “straight” female. It got him pretty far (albeit through a winding road): out of Communist East Germany, out of a trailer park in Missouri, and eventually into New York Rock Stardom. But life as Hedwig was untenable because Hansel, at the core, was urging to come out and live his life as a male. By coming out of drag, Hansel was allowed to reembrace his masculine half. Hedwig was not discarded, though – the tattoo was unified. This allowed Hansel finally to reach acceptance and to be at peace with himself.

You know, edwino, that’s a really interesting way to look at it. I hadn’t thought of that before, although it’s certainly true that Hedwig/Hansel was never intersexed, but forced to have a sex change to get out of the country.

The play ends similarly, but the impression I got was that, somehow, Hedwig and Tommy were two halves of the same person (remember the song, “Origin of Love”?) that finally became one. The script seems to support this, referring to the character after he/she sings the “Wicked Little Town” reprise as Hedwig/Tommy. I never thought about Hansel having anything to do with it.

Part of the difference between the play and the movie, though, is that in the play, Tommy and Hedwig are played by the same actor or actress (although we only see Tommy once, when he sings the reprise of “Wicked Little Town”), whereas in the movie, they got another actor to play Tommy.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen it, but the ending is explained in one of the DVD extrs. It is to do with Hansel learning to accept his true self.