A Welcome and a Definition

Culture Vulture: "A person with a strong, sometimes obsessive, interest in the arts." Culture Vultures spend a lot of time observing the world. This is where those observations come out.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Kissing Jessica and Hedwig

Inspired by a recent blog post from my friend Stephen, I got to thinking about soul mates, and why people love who they love. I really have always thought the idea of soul mates is way more complicated than people usually think. As a chronically single person, I can safely say I am not even close to understanding how that other fits or will ever fit into my life. However, the topic and pop culture that discusses it always fascinates me. The two movies that I feel best relate the complicated world love can create are Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Kissing Jessica Stein. I will admit both of these movies have a queer bent to them, but then again so do I.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch: The movie opens with Hedwig talking about her lifelong search for her other, as shown by her tattoo: two halves that went put together will form a whole, a complete circle. This idea is set up nicely in the "Origin of Love," that love is really a search for a loss all of us suffered some time ago. (Side note: the Origin of Love comes from the Plato's Symposium and was attributed to Aristophanes in the work. It's also one of the earliest mentions of homosexuality in Western culture.)

Hedwig thinks she has found her other twice in her life: once, with her ex-husband Luther Robinson, the American GI who marries her and gets her out of East Berlin. The second time is her lover and protege, Tommy Gnosis. However, the movie alludes to the fact that neither ever loves her completely. Luther makes it go through her botched surgery to create the "Angry Inch" and then promptly leaves her (for a man no less!) In a rather emotional scene, Tommy and Hedwig get intimate when Tommy suddenly pulls back when he realizes she is not completely a woman. Hedwig screams at him "Love the front of me!" Tommy and Hedwig eventually break up, only to cause Tommy to climb higher and cause Hedwig to fall even further. She is deep into her tour and her obsession with Tommy when the movie opens.

Behind the scenes (so to speak) is Hedwig's third love: her bandmate Yitzhak. The relationship's minor role in the movie indicates its minor role in Hedwig's life. It is obvious she is still hung up on Tommy. While she knows Yitzhak is not her other, she also can not stand the idea of him leaving her. She indicates this when he does try to leave and she tears up his passport. However, this never brings Hedwig peace. Only when she lets go of everything: her past, her relationship with Tommy, and finally Yitzhak does she find the peace in the fact that Hedwig is complete person all on her own. The movie drives this point home by recreating Hedwig's tattoo as a complete face in a complete circle. I have to admit the ending was slightly lost on me the first time I saw this movie. However, I was really moved by the ending more so the last time I watched it than on previous viewings.

Kissing Jessica Stein:
This indie movie tells about the many layers of a relationship that exists between two women. Jessica, a neurotic singleton, can never seem to make to find her perfect soul mate. However, she finds a deep connection with Helen, her polar opposite. Helen is a free-thinking, bicurious woman who is dating several men. Where Jessica is frozen in her decision-making, Helen jumps first and looks for the net later. A personal ad and a few meetings bring them together to create a quasi-lesbian relationship, despite misgivings from Jessica's side. However, Helen challenges Jessica's notions, yet loves her unconditionally (this echoes Jane Austen's idea of romance and is always a winning combo in rom coms).

Much of the movie follows Jessica through her journey of acceptance and change in her notions of who her true love will look like. However, what I love about this movie is that Jessica's eventual acceptance of Helen in her life completely is not the end of the story. Like Hedwig, there's another story going on in the background: her love/hate relationship with her boss and ex-boyfriend Josh. A comment Josh makes to her is what precipitates her push towards Helen. Jessica and Josh are affected by one another more than each wants to admit. In a very telling scene, Jessica and Helen have dinner with Jessica's parents only to find her mother has invited Josh and an eligible bachelor for Jessica to meet (Jessica's mother unaware her daughter is dating Helen.) When the rather charmless bachelor announces he works as a systems analyst for IBM, both Josh and Helen say in unison, "Jessica hates computers." This scene reveals that Josh and Jessica connection.

Finally, at the height of Helen and Jessica's relationship, Josh reveals his undying love for Jessica. Jessica is noticeably torn but stays with Helen. However, Jessica's relationship with Helen is never perfect and eventually falls apart. Jessica finds peace with herself and has Helen as her best friend. With her new found liberation, Josh magically reappears in her life. The movie's plot arc leaves you with a lot to chew on: so who is Jessica's soul mate? Someone might argue it's Josh, but without Helen, would Jessica ever be ready for Josh's love? The fact that both are in Jessica's life may indicate that indeed it is really both of them are Jessica's soul mates.


  1. Hmmm....soul mates do not have to be your partner....we sometimes marry soul mates and they come and go throughout our lives.

    And you cannot love another more than you love yourself. Except maybe your kids. Ha Ha.

  2. I think that the kinds of people who you need in your life are the ones who will see you clearly and (often without conscious thought) balance you out. That's definitely how I see Mark, but also my closest friends.

    Your comments about Hedwig ring truest for me. I recently mentioned that it's taken me almost 30 years to really start accepting and liking myself in an honest way. I don't think I'd ever be able to be as committed as I am to this relationship if I didn't also think that I could also be a complete person without it. It may not sound as romantic, but I don't know that I think of Mark as my "other half" as much as I think of him as a perfect companion. Another whole that complements me.

  3. I was trying to skirt around my own personal thoughts when I posted this, but since it's my mother and my friend Josh commenting I will throw in my two cents. I long gave up the notion of one soul mate completing me and my life. Being almost 30 and single for all of it, I probably would have slit my wrists by now thinking I was half of a whole. Like you Josh, I am only now learning to love myself for who I am.I also like what you said about Mark being your complementary whole.

    I tend to believe that we have multiple soul mates, some we love in a romantic way, but also some we love in a platonic way. I have friends in my life I know I will always be in my life like that. Getting back to the movies, one thing I like about both of them is there is not a rom com expectation of a love that lasts forever. I think movies like that almost do a disservice to the layered, complicated force that is love (on all levels.)