The Origin of Love: A Weekend of Vampires, Transsexuals and Rock ‘N Roll

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Love can be an incredibly powerful emotion and experience, so it should go without saying that it is also an incredibly difficult thing to find and commit to. It’s almost as difficult to tangibly capture both the experience of having love and the yearning of trying to find it in a narrative, which is why both the new stage production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch and the film Only Lovers Left Alive were so impactful for me. While one is a mostly loud, rowdy and colorful musical, and the other is a quiet, slow-burn indie film, they seem to me to have the same lovelorn heart, albeit in contrasting perspectives. They each depict a different stage of love, and in the process show us not just the power of having a soulmate, but also the importance of knowing yourself before you find that eternal partner. Spoilers and emotions after the jump…

Each of these stories covers one extreme of love, and in doing so they paint as complete a picture as I can imagine, in a way that (probably) no one story could. Hedwig shows someone who hungers for love and companionship, while Only Lovers shows two people who have had that companionship for multiple lifetimes. In seeing those two moments juxtaposed, I saw a truth about the reality of relationships: while Hedwig hungers for (and is caught up in) visceral passion, the true strength of a relationship comes from the sort of comfort and steadiness that Jarmusch’s vampires have long since perfected.

There is one exciting bit of parallel action between the stories, as both also use random bits of smart-people talk to express their perspectives on love. Hedwig uses Plato as the basis for the song that lends its title to this article, where she sings about how we were all initially two people stuck together until the gods decided to cut us apart, leaving us to wander for eternity looking for our other half. And Only Lovers quotes Einstein’s entanglement theory (about how two particles can be separated and taken to opposite ends of the known universe, and yet what happens to one influences the other) in its finale, as Adam and Eve- yeah, really- reflect on their relationship while watching a pair of young lovers being together. In using these references, both stories seem to suggest a belief in the concept of soulmates, and the potential for long-term love and happiness between two people.

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However, the most important aspect is one that both stories share directly: the idea that finding a soulmate and love isn’t possible until you know who you are yourself. In the musical, Hedwig is swept up in two major relationships that are defined by how she changes or hides to satisfy her lovers, and so both relationships fail. Initially Hedwig (while still identifying as a boy and known as Hansel) is seduced by a strapping American army officer, and to allow their marriage and Hansel’s emigration to the US, he goes through a (botched) sex change, becoming Hedwig and drastically altering herself for her lover… who ends up leaving her for another boy anyway. And later on, she falls into an affair with young Tommy, and allows him to ignore her scars and her past until it’s too late for them to build a relationship honestly. But her third relationship might have a chance for survival in the end as both she and her husband Yitzhak try and commit to who they really want to be.

Meanwhile, in Only Lovers, Adam and Eve are both (by virtue of their advanced ages) very certain and comfortable with who they are, committed to their own passions and unafraid to spend some time apart if necessary, and their relationship is strong. Adam is a moody, anonymous rock star who has no respect for “zombies” (ie humans), while Eve is a more quiet and worldly literary type that finds great beauty in mankind. But in being together, they balance each other out and can approach the rest of the world on an even keel… which also reflects Hedwig, who at one point wonders whether her soulmate is someone just like her or someone completely different than her.

Something that I’ve begun to notice about myself is that I am always looking for patterns in storytelling; recurring themes and ideas in a given year, or filmography, or what-have-you. In that regard, this moment of pop culture synchronicity is exciting for me, but in the end what’s most exciting is just how authentically romantic Only Lovers Left Alive and Hedwig and the Angry Inch both are at their core, despite all their differences. And that appeals to the romantic in me, the part of me that is often not satisfied by the stylish pulp stories that tend to make up the bulk of my pop culture appetite. These stories of love- both the pursuit of it and the endurance of it- are engaging, honest and, beneath all the flash and style, REAL. Go see them both, if you can, hopefully with someone you love.

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