Growing up in a house with parents who eat, sleep, and breathe The Beatles, I was a bit hesitant to watch Across the Universe. When I heard there was a musical that has a soundtrack of Beatles covers I was not sure if I would like it, thinking the film was going to fall flat on its face. To my surprise I loved the movie and all that it had to offer. Despite its formalistic nature, at the heart of the movie is an authentic story and characters.
The film stars many actors who are less well known, like Dana Fuchs, Martin Luther, and T.V Carpio, alongside a few more recognizable names like Evan Rachel Wood, Jim Sturgess, and Bono. The actors bring to life these amazing and vivid characters and with the help of director Julie Taymor and cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel, express the horrors of the Vietnam War and the power of love. Taymor, who directed The Lion King on Broadway brings her whimsical and formalistic style to the screen and breathes new life to the songs adored by millions.
Traveling from Liverpool to America in search of his father, Jude (Sturgess) befriends rambunctious Princeton student Max (Joe Anderson). After bringing Jude home for Thanksgiving break, Max drops out of college and the two decide to move to New York City where they live in an apartment with an eccentric group of hippies and musicians. After her boyfriend is killed in Vietnam, Max’s sister Lucy (Wood) moves in with Max and Jude for the summer. Throughout the beginning of the film we see various story lines of other characters like Prudence (Carpio), a closeted lesbian who flees Dayton, Ohio for the City, and Jo-Jo (Luther) who leaves Detroit after his younger brother is killed during a riot. These two eventually move into the apartment and become a part of the group. Land-lady Sadie (Fuchs) and Jo-Jo are in an on-again-off-again relationship romantically and musically, Prudence secretly pines over Sadie, and Jude and Lucy fall deeply and madly in love.
After Max is drafted into the army we see a change in the film and the characters. There is a shift from the light and “fluffy” songs of the early Beatles and a departure from the straightforward camera work. Lucy is no longer the young girl in the pony tail and knee length skirts singing about holding her high school boyfriend tightly under the gym disco ball. Now the film enters a sort of drug induced state and the characters realize the full effects of the war as they try to navigate the turbulent world of war, peace, and love.
Lucy joins a radical anti-war movement and her relationship with Jude becomes strained. The remainder of the movie is told by the more radical and “edgy” Beatles songs such as “I am the Walrus” and “Happiness is a Warm Gun.” Max is discharged from the services and suffers mentally from what he experienced in Vietnam. The ending involves a magical rooftop performance that summarizes the whole meaning and plot of the movie via the song, “All You Need is Love,” showing the audience the power of peace and love.
After my first time seeing this film, I was blown away by the story of true love that triumphs over even the most difficult historical periods. While I think that anyone can watch this movie once and fall in love with it I believe that watching it a second time enhances the viewing process. The first time around I was so preoccupied with wondering how they would be able to pull this off that I missed a lot of things. The second time around I learned more about the story and the little details. It’s those that I believe make this movie as great as it is.
The writers and director don’t just take the iconic Beatles music and place it into a story. The songs by the Beatles are integrated into every aspect of the narrative from the names of the characters – Lucy, Jude, Prudence – to little references such as “when I’m 64” by the payroll cashier. While the movie is based in the 60s during the height of the Beatles’ popularity and one of the most turbulent times in America, it still resonates with audiences today. The late famed American film critic and historian Roger Ebert speaks to the film’s ability to connect with the audience regardless of age in his review of the film. He states that the beauty mixed with the timeless music allows the film to transcend any boundaries and become a movie that viewers can watch over and over again. Across the Universe is a heartwarming and original tale that uses what has become classic Beatles music in such a wonderful and artistic way that viewers will not be disappointed that they’re not hearing the original voices and arrangements of the Beatles.