“Crazy World Full of Crazy Contradictions”, Blake Edwards’ Victor/Victoria

This article was originally published in Wide Angle vol. 5 no. 4 1983. It is published here with the kind permissions of the authors.

When we first see Victoria Grant (Julie Andrews) in Blake Edwards’ Victor/Victoria, she is friendless, without money or a job and starving. When her hotel manager demands the rent she hasn’t paid for two weeks and still hasn’t got, she offers to sleep with him for a meatball, then faints. He drags her into her room, dumps her on the bed and drops his pants. Suddenly she awakens, sees a cockroach and screams convulsively, inadvertently sending the manager careening across the room. He confiscates her luggage and leaves.

Soon after, Victoria brings the cockroach into a restaurant, eats voraciously, and then releases the cockroach, again screaming. In the resultant furor, she escapes without paying the bill.

These two incidents reveal a basic pattern in this film which deals centrally with theatricality. When Victoria first sees the cockroach, she reacts instinctively. Without having intended it, she saves herself from sexual degradation by her filthy, repulsive landlord, and gains more time to pay the bill. When she later enters the restaurant, however, she has carefully planned out her very similar behaviour in advance. She has even brought the cockroach. Although not on stage, she is putting on a performance, and it achieves the desired effect.

Prior to the first cockroach scene, we see Victoria auditioning for a job as a nightclub singer. Realising that the club owner, Labisse (Peter Arne), considers her classically-trained voice too “highbrow”, she offers to change her style. Using the example of a nun trying to become a streetwalker, he says no, that some things must come “naturally” and that no amount of rehearsal can improve them. He tells her to forget about performing in a nightclub and advises her to return to singing Carmen. Indignant, she retorts, “I’m a coloratura, not a mezzo.” He replies, “Well, whatever you are, André Cassell [a major agent] should never have sent you over here.”

Labisse is a singularly stupid man who makes one blunder after another. Victoria will soon become the toast of Paris as a nightclub performer. And as a particular type of nightclub performer—“Victor/Victoria”, a female impersonator. All of Paris perceives her as a man (Victor) pretending to be a woman. Since Labisse’s club, Chez Lui, caters to the Parisian sexual demimonde, his missed opportunity is a blunder indeed. He is precisely the person to whom André Cassell should have sent Victoria, and Cassell goes on to make a fortune from her performances.

But even more ironic is the remark “whatever you are”. The entire film is based upon the extreme tenuousness of people’s knowledge of what other people “are” and “are not”, and this issue is played out on a plane that, for most people, would preclude debate—that of sexual difference. The presumption is that there is very little doubt as to whether a person is male or female and, except in the case of extremely rare medical abnormalities, and such doubt can be quickly cleared up. In fact, a major scene in Victor/Victoria involves precisely this issue. King Marchand (James Garner) is deeply disturbed about his own sexuality because he has fallen in love with Victor/Victoria, who is supposed to be a man. Marchand hides in Victoria’s bathroom and watches her undress. Only when he actually sees her genitals is he certain, and his face glows with triumph. But to his chagrin, the problems of sexual confusion do not end there, they really begin, because the film presents sexual identity as more of a cultural phenomenon than a biological one.

Labrisse’s remark “whatever you are”, has a particular irony in this film. Whether musically, stylistically or even sexually, he assumes that Victoria “is” something, and therefore cannot “be” something else as a result of either training or inclination subsequent career proves him wrong. Furthermore, he observation is singularly blind since the clientele to which his club caters is of highly dubious and, one suspects, frequently altered, sexual identity.

One dance number at Chez Lui point to this. Four performers—two apparently male, two apparently female—dance slowly onstage, facing the audience and the camera. Suddenly, continuing the dance, they turn around, but we do not see their backs as expected; rather, the males have miraculously become females and the females males in face and costuming. We soon realise that the dancers are made up and costumed in such a way as to present completely different sexual identities from the front and the back—they wear masks on the back of their heads to present a different sex than their faces indicate, and their costumes change, front and back, to maintain the illusion. It is jarring to see them whirl around because the sexual change is so instantaneous, and it takes time to realise which “male” or which “female” is a mask and which is a made-up face. We never actually learn the sexual identities of the performers.

During the number, the group of four at times splits into two “couples”. When the tempo is slow, the audience can begin to fix the sexual nature of the façades of the performers they see, but suddenly the tempo speeds up, and the performers whirl wildly about, making the number a crazed emitter of conflicting sexual cues. All certainty is gone. Then the tempo slows and the illusion of a measure of certainty returns.

Only in this number does Edwards significantly undermine the sexual perception of the film’s spectator, and thus experientially position that spectator where most of the film’s characters constantly stand. While characters in the film are confused, even disturbed about Victor/Victoria’s sexual identity, we as an audience never are. But in this number, our confusion really exists on a level of highly theatrical presentation, not one of betrayed visual desire. The dancers are heavily made-up, and the bodies are not presented in a visually enticing way. The illusion is one involving modes of theatrical presentation; no one would take the performers as “realistic” males or females—that mode of deception is another issue entirely.

As soon as this number ends, Labisse asks “Victor”, who is a member of the audience, to perform in Chez Lui as a favour. Labisse, then, goes from presenting a fascinating performance revolving around theatrically manipulated sexual confusion to demonstrating that, in real life, he is a victim of that confusion himself since he has no idea that “Victor” is the Victoria he recently turned down for a job on the basis of her inability to change her “nature”. He earlier cavalier dismissal of her on the basis of his indifference to “whatever you are” now more pointedly exposes his ignorance since he should has asked, “whatever are you?”

All of the major characters in Victor/Victoria are involved in theatrical life, and the films uses theatricality as a major mode, as well as a central arena, for the issues of identity it raises. There are frequent parallels between behaviour in “real life”, and the theatrical behaviour, but like the polarities of sexual indentity, the differences become less and less certain. The film works not to establish clear-cut distinctions, but rather the opposite: it continually points to contradictions and ambiguities in such traditional distinctions.

The cockroach incidents are useful because neither occurs in a theatre, but they provide a clear contrast between “real”, instinctive, or as Labisse puts it, “natural”, behaviour, and planned, theatrical behaviour. A similar opposition exists with Victoria’s male impersonation. She first dresses in a man’s clothes solely because her own have been ruined. When she hears her ailing and aging friend, Toddy (Robert Preston), insulted by a vicious young gigolo, she reacts violently by punching the gigolo and throwing him out of the room. The combination of the clothing and the violent, aggressive behaviour, traditionally associated with masculinity, gives Toddy the brainstorm to present Victoria, onstage, as a male female impersonator. As with the cockroach incident, she then organizes a highly planned theatrical act, this time in a theatrical setting and onstage, around what had at first been an isolated, instinctive incident.

We also see an ironic reversal of this process. Victoria performs onstage as a woman and then, amidst the applause at the end of her act, suddenly stops dead, and dramatically rips off her “female” wig to reveal what appears to be a male head. The audience is stunned, and then, realizing the impersonation, applauds even louder. It is an impressive piece of theatre. When she performs as “Victor” in Chez Lui, after the sexual reversal number, a brawl breaks out. She grabs a woman by her black hair, which comes off—it is a wig—revealing underneath a half-bald head with scraggly light hair. Victoria herself is horiified and looks at the wig as if at a festering thing before dropping it in disgust. In a way, she is as surprised as her audience is by the same gesture she carefully and calculatingly does every night. The tables are turned. We had earlier seen a progression from the “natural” to the “artificial”; here, we and Victoria are deceived by the “artificial” and shocked by the “natural”.

But the distinctions still are not clear. On the sexual plane we have Victoria, the woman, occasionally acting instinctively in a “male” way, as when she punches the gigolo. Toddy, who is demonstrably male, is also homosexual and thus possesses the “unmasculine” trait of desiring other men. He frequents the Parisian demimonde and is generally known as a homosexual, but we also have “Squash” Berstein (Alex Karras), King Marchand’s hulking bodyguard who while publicly known as rugged and violent (highly coded “manly” traits), is a closet homosexual. He is not a stage performer, but his life is a perpetual performance. Marchand, after learning that Squash is a homosexual, is amazed that he knew Squash for 15 years and never guessed it. Squash tells him, “You’d be surprised” how many men live such double lives. This occurs in a wholly non-theatrical context, and yet points to pervasion theatricality both on and off stage; theatricality and learned behaviour are presented as a way of life, often undistinguished from “natural” behaviour even by intimates. As Toddy says, “People believe what they see”.

Victoria’s case is particularly complex. Her “natural” life provides the basis for her “theatrical” life, and her theatrical life begins to determine her natural life. Because she becomes famous as a man, she must pretend to be one offstage, thus making her private life as much of a performance as her stage performances. It is a mixed blessing. She enjoys the greater freedom a man has in culture, as well as the professional success she never had as a woman. However, she falls in love with King Marchand. This leads to difficulty because, to pursue the relationship, Victoria must either appear in public as a woman, and thus subvert her own career, or continue to appear as a man and thus maintain what appears to be a homosexual relationship. This in turn gives King profound image and professional problems. When they first kiss, he knows what she is biologically a woman but has not yet revealed this to her. Her tells her, “I don’t care if you are a man”. She admits, “I’m not a man”, and recalling Labisse’s “whatever you are” in an entirely different context, he replies, “I still don’t care”, and they kiss. Although King claims on a private level not to care, the public does, and the two aspects of their lives cannot be easily segregated.

Even though he knows her “natural” sexual identity, his affair with her forces him to go “into the closet” because it involves someone publicly known to be a man. This jeopardizes Marchand’s career as a Chicago nightclub owner because, as Squash puts it, “the mob doesn’t recognize homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle.

This increasingly blurred difference between natural behaviour and theatrical behaviour parallels the difference between performer and audience. At first it seems quite clear, but not for long.

Unlike the musical number in some films, in Victor/Victoria they are carefully integrated into the film’s narrative and thematic structure. In Victoria’s first performance the audience is nearly as important as what is onstage, and the narrative progresses during the performance as a result of complex audience response. Toddy and André Cassell are watching the audience as much as they are watching Victoria because the audience’s response will indicate the success or failure of their entrepreneurial venture. More importantly, we see King Marchand, his moll Norma (Lesley Ann Warren), and Squash. Marchand says nothing during the sequence, but is clearly becoming sexually aroused by Victoria onstage. Norma enjoys the number until she sees Marchand’s response, and then becomes jealous. Midway through the number Squash announces, “She’s a winner”, and Marchand nods in agreement. At the end when all are stunned as Victoria removes her wig, Squash blurts out ‘It’s a guy”. Norma’s jealousy becomes elation, and Marchand is profoundly disturbed.

Not only does the response of Victoria’s audience during the number establish character responses and relationships important to the film’s development, but it also sets up a clear-cut opposition between performer and audience that, like the opposition of male and female, the film will undermine. This reaches its most extreme level when, at the end of the film, Victoria is seated in the audience watching a parody of a number she had recently performed on the same stage. The performer, earlier so clearly separated from the audience, is now part of it; she is watching and applauding the performance of someone (Toddy) who had earlier been part of the audience.

The audience is not pure either. The people in the audience upon whom Edwards focuses during the first number are theatrical producers. André Cassell and Toddy are responsible for Victor/Victoria’s performance as have as much invested in it as she does. They, even though part of the audience, are fervently seeking the approval, vicariously through Victor/Victoria, of the rest of the audience.

King Marchand is also a producer; he owns a Chicago nightclub. While his initial interest in seeing Victor/Victoria’s performance may have been professional, as was that of Cassell and Toddy, it soon becomes sexual. He is so attracted to her that he eventually offers her a fortune to come to Chicago to perform in his club. But soon after the offer he and she become lovers, so the initial audience/performer relationship, the boundaries of which are soon sullied into a producer/performer relationship, is now further confused by becoming a lover relationship, the very sexual nature of which is up to some question.

Soon after, Victoria performs not as Victor/Victoria but solely as Victor (in a tuxedo) and sings a song which begins, “Crazy world, full of contradictions”. During the number, Edwards’ camera work and stage lighting focus attention dominantly onto “Victor” and a single red carnation atop the piano by which she sings. At the number’s end, amid enthusiastic applause, she affectionately tosses the carnation to Marchand who is sitting in the audience. He becomes profoundly embarrassed because, although he is having a private love affair with Victoria, this gesture links him in the eyes of the audience of which he was just a part, with “Victor”, and publicly brands him a homosexual. In a way, he is onstage, and he doesn’t like it. His private identity as a member of the audience as well as his sexual identity are both undermined.

Edwards immediately cuts to two scenes in which Marchand and Victoria (who is dressed as “Victor”) are members of audiences. In the first they sit in a blood splattering boxing bout, a traditionally male entertainment. “Victor” acts in a non-masculine way by vomiting. Next we see them at the opera, an entertainment more traditionally encoded as female. Marchand seems somewhat bored, and “Victor” acts, again in a non-masculine way, by weeping uncontrollably. In both situations she, dressed as a man, attracts attention to herself by allowing her “natural” self to emerge. Later they try to go dancing, but the only place in which they can do so in 1934 is in a homosexual nightclub. Marchand is so upset and disgusted by the spectacle of dozens of male couples dancing together that he regresses into intensely stereotypical macho behaviour—he seeks out an all male bar but in a dangerous section of town and provokes a brawl, nearly getting himself killed. When the brawl is over he, in a mode of behaviour not very different from the activities in the homosexual nightclub in its intense imperative towards male bonding but altogether different in cultural implications, stands in the debris of the wrecked bar with his arms around a group of men, singing “Sweet Adeline”. Soon after, his Chicago partner confronts him, contemptuously saying, “Hello, faggot”.

Curiously, Marchand’s public relationship with a “man” brands him a homosexual and threatens his livelihood. His problems do not stem from inner conflicts since he knows Victoria to be female, but from conflicts in his public self. However, to deal with his public embarrassment, he does not openly court female companionship, but privately seeks out a group composed exclusively of men and engages in highly coded masculine behaviour—brawling, drunkenness, intense affection for those with whom you have just brawled. It seems a very curious thing that to demonstrate on a very private level to himself that he is not part of a subculture that prizes above all else the close relationship of men to men, often to the exclusion of women, he would seek out an exclusively male group, engage in behaviour culturally available exclusively to men, and in his warm affection for and physical contact with those men, feel that he has somehow purged himself of homosexual taint. Yet, culturally, it conforms to a common logic.

Victoria apparently resolves the problem by, at the end, appearing in public, for the first time since the film’s opening, dressed as a woman. She appears to be acting on her earlier stated determination that her goal in life was to be “Mrs King Marchand”, and she sits demurely beside Marchand in the audience.

But she sits at a performance “Victor/Victoria” is supposed to give. Marchand is puzzled. The performance by whom the announcer claims to be “The one, the only Victoria” begins, and Toddy appears in Victoria’s role.

It is a strange sequence. A character who is a stage performer sits out the climatic stage performance in the film while a character of a different sex does a parody of a number she originated onstage. Curiously, at this very same time, she plays out what may be her most dramatic moment in the film, the rejection of her career and the public re-assumption of her female role in front of an audience, and no one notices. She walks through the entire audience to take her place beside Marchand and, even though she is the toast of Paris and all seated there have come explicitly to see her, they do not notice her at all, but greet the new, public Victor/Victoria—Toddy, who looks and acts nothing like Victoria—with the same enthusiasm with which they greeted the old Victor/Victoria. Once more we are reminded of Toddy’s statement, “People believe what they see”, even though the nature of the illusion is entirely different. Victoria’s ‘Victor/Victoria” appeared to be a feminine woman who then revealed herself to be a man; Toddy’s “Victor/Victoria” is clearly a man grotesquely arrayed as a woman.

Much about the final scene of Victor/Victoria initially seems excessive. From a strict logic of narrative economy, the scene itself is unnecessary—thus an excess. In addition, it drives Toddy into behaviour much more “excessive” than anything else he has done earlier. He is not established as a drag queen, and yet the finally scene curiously dwells on him in that role. At least one critic who loved the film regretted only the last scene—a response which can be read as reacting to this double excess.

Furthermore, this scene contains an unexpected shift in the development of Victoria’s character. Earlier in the film, when King Marchand proposed that she live with him as a traditional woman, she rejected the offer. Her reasons were politically and analytically incisive: she has learned to value the power she has as a man which she would lose where she to return to her role as a woman. In short, Victoria has discovered the symbolic power disequilibrium which characterizes a patriarchal, phallocentric culture (King’s very name here is significant). Yet her behaviour in the final scene contradicts her earlier political analysis.

The last song we hear Victoria sing before she joins King as a woman begins with the line “Crazy world, full of crazy contradictions”, and this line points to the film’s insistence on exposing contradictions contained within it. Rather than present a unifying ending, Edwards riddles the final scene with disturbing elements. Victoria is dressed in black and almost seems attired for a funeral. She takes the “proper” place of a woman, sitting quietly at King’s side. Indeed, in one shot we actually see he silently mouthing the words to the song that was once hers which Toddy now sings. No one hears her. This loss of language corresponds with her loss of power. There is a tradition in American film comedy that uses a man’s loss of language as the source of humour, comparable to the tradition of placing men in women’s clothes or “unmanly” situations. At times both traditions are combined. In Howard Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby, for example, Cary Grant is comically reduced to this position in several scenes. In one instance, he wear’s a woman’s gown, trying to speak at the same time two women are talking. He opens his mouth again and again to speak, but is unable to. When he does say something he is either ignored or his words are ineffectual. In the last scene of the film, he is once again silenced by Katherine Hepburn as he tries to talk. Dudley Moore in Blake Edwards’ “10” suffers a similar comic loss of language after a visit to the dentist. And indeed, Inspector Clouseau’s famous inability to speak the English language is closely related to this idea.

To command language is to have power. Many non-comic films contain crucial scenes in which men discuss things which will alter the lives of all the characters. These scenes often include cuts to silent women whol watch the men. Their silence in such shots corresponds to their marginal position in relationship to the power dynamics in the scene. Victoria ends the film not as a man dressed as a woman but as a woman dressed as a woman, and thus no longer holds the attention she held as a man. It is the silence of the bystander that Edwards poignantly brings to the surface in that shot of Victoria silently mouthing the words she once commanded. Thus the ideological consequences of her move from stage performer to audience member, from “man” to “woman”, are exposed, not simplistically glorified in an untroubled moment of romantic fervor.

And how does Toddy fit into all this? Victor/Victoria does not present the gay lifestyle as a spectacle for heterosexual enjoyment as, say, La Cage aux folles does. Yet on the surface, it may seem that the final scene of Victor/Victoria does just that. Toddy’s position is in many ways a celebration of his vitality which contrasts to the subdued, blackly attired Victoria who has abandoned the spotlight to become King’s woman. Once people looked at her and listened; now she looks at Toddy in that position.

Genitality as approved by powerful men plays an important role in Victoria’s and Toddy’s respective positionings. King Marchand begins his progress towards domination of Victoria, with the accompanying dispersal of the power she enjoys as a male, when he literally looks at her genitals and discovers her to be a biological woman. This awareness gives him sufficient self-confidence to pursue and ultimately subordinate her. There is a matching incident before the final sequence when the police burst into Toddy’s dressing room and inspect his genitals. Had the police discovered Victoria’s genitals, she would not have been allowed to perform, but they find Toddy in her place, who easily proves himself biologically a man. Regardless, she does not perform.

Victoria is in a double bind. She has chosen not to perform in order to take her place beside King. But she would not have been allowed to perform anyway, and this underlines the lack of real choice in her “choice”. Although she has escaped the civil law, she is still bound by the symbolic Law of patriarchy and winds up offstage, beside King, watching Toddy perform at centre stage.

Traditionally, dance is highly structured around sexual difference. Certain movements are considered beautiful on a woman, certain others on a man. In classical ballet, the ballerina leaps into the man’s arms, but not vice versa. The basis of the humour in Toddy’s dance is in his inversion of this. It unleashes chaos into the traditional choreography of sexual difference. When he leaps into a man’s arms, the man collapses under the weight, and Toddy’s utterly unsuccessful assumption of female posturing, in choreographic structures we have earlier seen Victoria glide gracefully through, makes his act funny where hers had been seductive. Her “illusion” of femininity was complete; his was good-humoured parody. Sexually of course Toddy poses a similar threat of chaos to the world of heterosexuality. But in this final scene, all of the vitality is with him on the stage and not with the newly formed heterosexual couple in the audience. Furthermore, the cutting pattern emphasizes this: the last scene belongs to Toddy. Victoria is marginalized in relationship to him. The last shot of the film before the credits start appearing over the characters is of Toddy receiving, and utterly enjoying thunderous applause.

This scene reveals Edwards’ growing ability to use the endings of films in ways other than simple, logically unified conclusions. Most Hollywood filmmakers would have ended the film celebrating King and Victoria’s union by sending them away together. Such a formation of the heterosexual romantic couple at the end of the film is traditional and expected, but Edwards presents it in such a way as to reveal the deep cost of that formation—and the contradictions necessary for it. He ends up celebrating more the gay man than the nearly “newly weds”.

While Victor/Victoria deals overtly with homosexuality, it is at its most fundamental level more about sexual difference than it is about homosexuality and heterosexuality. Indeed, the film is based upon a 1933 German film titled Viktor und Viktoria and Edwards’ replacement of the conjunction “and” with the graphic slash mark is a testament to the modern concern with the border between the masculine and the feminine, the S and the Z.

Hollywood films generally present sexual difference as simple and natural. The issue is seldom presented as one allowing complexity. An extraordinary exception occurs in the opening sequence of Joseph von Sternberg’s Blonde Venus. As Marlene Dietrich swims in the nude, a group of young men furtively gazes at her. The shots of Dietrich’s body are also classically fetishised through fragentation. One of those shots seems to be of her kicking her legs in the water, but the camera pulls back to reveal a boy’s legs as he splashes in the bathtub. Dietrich kneels over the tub and it is immediately clear that there has been a jump in time; she is now a mother bathing her child. The shot is shocking because for an instant the men in the audience are likely to have placed their erotic desires on the boy’s legs, thinking them to be Dietrich’s. The sequence has been building in such a way that the eroticism is increasing as this shot occurs. Men in the audience, then, are potentially not only shocked by the momentary confusion of the collapse of sexual difference but also potentially disturbed by the implicit threat of homosexuality—they have been aroused by a boy’s legs.

Blake Edwards’s Gunn contains a similar threat to the men in the audience. A woman whom men in the film find sexually desirable turns out to be a man. Again, through the classic Hollywood system of looks, Edwards snares the men in the audience into looking erotically at the woman. At the film’s conclusion, he shocks the audience by suddenly and brutally revealing the woman is a male transvestite.

These moments reveal that the visual truth of sexual difference is not what the Hollywood cinema presents it as. The classical Hollywood style constructs sexual difference through strict codes of camera positioning, cutting, lighting, casting, costuming, etc. A stable, predictable sexual surface is always maintained and desire is never misplaced. There is nothing natural in the codes that guarantee this; to the contrary, they constitute a strict system which prevents the ideologically undesirable from occurring. The works of some avant-garde filmmakers have exposed this and, for example, eroticized ambiguous body surfaces.

Yet Victor/Victoria never does any of this and thus, in a sense, plays it safe. Unlike Gunn, the audience is never fooled. King, who panics over his supposed error of sexual difference, discovers the truth fairly quickly. When he first kisses “Victor” and she tells him she is a woman, he replies that he doesn’t care what she is. But he says this already knowing what she is and consequently risks nothing.

Again, the situation is much more complex than it may at first seem. The structure of the scene in which King discovers the “truth” emphasizes how precarious the situation is. Hidden in a closet, he watches Victor undress. We see point-of-view shots of Victor’s body. At one point, the shots emphasize the legs, at another the back, and still King does not know Victor’s sexual identity. Indeed, the shot where Victor takes off “his” undershirt is profoundly ambiguous. Her back faces the camera and everything about the shot suggests she could be a man. The more King sees the more frustrated he becomes until, just as Victor sinks into the tub, he sees the one thing he must see to give a look of absolute relief.

Much about this is ludicrous. King has already been deeply aroused by Victor/Victoria’s looks, her voice, her manner and those portions of her body he has seen. He would not be ridiculously jammed into her bathroom closet watching her undress if this were not so. And he is not watching her undress for traditional voyeuristic purposes. He is not seeking arousal; rather he is trying to justify his already existing arousal, an arousal caused by the totality of her presence, not by the previously undisclosed nature of her genitals.

He elation at the sight of her genitals justifies for him his arousal—but implicit in the anxiety generated by the scene is the question, “What if Victor/Victoria is a man?” What if the genitals were different? Would King’s arousal automatically disperse? Of course not—he would have to develop some way to deal with it, probably through repression and aggressive resentment. He has come much to close for comfort.

The scene comically inverts what traditional psychoanalysis describes as a crucially dramatic moment in a boy’s life. The boy, in hiding, peeks through the keyhole and discovers the woman’s absence of a penis. This discovery gives rise to castration anxiety. In Edwards’ comic version of this drama, the man looks, sees the absence, and is relieved of his overwhelming anxiety.

The scene, in effect, mocks the idea that visually ascertaining sexual difference is a simple natural act and, furthermore, that one small part of the body could naturally determine and order all aspects of sexuality. By the time that King discovers that Victor is Victoria it seems like an almost stupid discovery. How could so much relief and triumph come from finally seeing one small part of the body after seeing almost all of the rest of it?

Some might argue that Gunn’s confusing of sexual difference is more radical that Victor/Victoria’s. But that would be superficial. Gunn is more upsetting; Victor/Victoria is more profound.

It is precisely the structures of safety which allow Edwards to explore disturbing ideas. The fact that King learns Victoria’s sexual identity early on is in some ways like the formation of the couple at the end of the film: it is not a simple affirmation. The safety is what allows Edwards to open up complex areas of sexuality which otherwise might not be confronted at all.

Edwards uses his extraordinary knowledge of the classical Hollywood cinema to investigate entirely new areas. In this he differs strongly from contemporary younger Hollywood directors (eg., Steven Spielberg and George Lucas) who adopt structures of the classical cinema, and in so doing create reactionary ideology. Far from giving us an old fashioned movie, like Star Wars, in which the genre conventions seem to justify an escape from contemporary sexuality, Edwards uses aspects of old Hollywood genres and modes of identification to ask us to think anew. It is his mastery of the old that engages many viewers to do just that. It is precisely the things which make Victor/Victoria safe which allow Edwards to make it so significantly daring.