tagReviews & EssaysA Review of "Across the Universe"

A Review of "Across the Universe"


As a fan of The Beatles' music with an intense interest in the cultural clashes and evolution in the 1960's I was immediately grabbed by the trailers for Across the Universe. So when Julie Taymor's musical using thirty of The Beatles' songs opened in the United States in limited release on September 14th I tore through the newspaper searching for a theatre showing the film. I finally got the opportunity to see the film this past weekend and must admit, for me, the film turned out to be everything I had hoped it would be.

As a bit of a warning for Lit readers here, the movie was only rated PG-13 for some drug content, nudity (brief nudity), sexuality, language and violence, so besides a few flashes of breasts and some implied sex in a beautiful, but unrevealing daydream sequence, this is a movie you will watch for the story and music and not the sex. Additionally, for people not particularly attracted to the music of The Beatles this movie may not interest you because, quite frankly, it is the music that makes this film.

The flm begins slowly in the Liverpool shipyards where Jude (heard that name before?) is finishing his last day as a shipbuilder. He returns home to pack and say goodbye to his mother as he leaves for America to search for his father, who was a GI in England during the war and doesn't know about Jude. Jude sings a farewell to his girlfriend, vowing to write and remain true and then he's off on a steamer heading to America.

As with any musical, we are expected to suspend our disbelief as the characters suddenly shift from dialogue into song and early in this movie this was a little awkward for me as the situations seemed contrived just for the songs. However, as Jude heads to Princeton University and finds that his father is not a professor there, but a mere janitor, he runs into Max, a student having too much fun to be bothered with college the film began to flow. Max takes Jude home for Thanksgiving Dinner and introduces him to Lucy, his sister, a high school cheerleader. At dinner Max announces plans to drop out and move to New York, while Jude falls in love with Lucy. Max and Jude head off to New York together.

There is a sudden shift in scene and the film suddenly shifts to Detroit in the middle of a riot, as police snipers shoot at looters. The music slips into a gospel version of "Let it Be" that unabashedly drew me into the movie, especially as the heart rending, shocking end of the song. The scene ends with Jo Jo, a black guitarist from Detroit also heading to New York.

Everyone converges into an apartment run by Sadie, a singer in a local club, who, coincidentally is looking for a guitarist. The group is later joined by Lucy, who loses her fiancé in Vietnam and Prudence, a lesbian classmate of Lucy's who actually comes in through the bathroom window. Yes, we have Jude, Lucy, Max, Jo Jo, Sadie, and Prudence with several other familiar names to come, all tossed together. Contrived? Yes, but just consider that if it weren't for the songs, these all would be simply normal names.

Sadie and Jo Jo become a big hit in a cavern like club, perhaps a nod to one of the clubs The Beatles played in during their early years. Sadie's rough singing style is most definitely a nod to Janis Joplin and as she puts together a costume Jo Jo looks uncannily like Jimi Hendrix, except he plays guitar right handed.

Sadie and Jo Jo vault to fame while Max gets drafted and Lucy gets involved with the peace movement as she falls in love with Jude. The characters began to get rolled up in the chaos of the times and start to fall apart as suddenly I realized I was watching two separate movies at the same time. Jude and Lucy's love story weaves in and out of Max's, Sadie's and the other character's lives and yet on an entirely new level there is another movie vibrating out of the music.

I will not rob any potential viewers of the sheer delight in discovering this movie within the movie, but I'll give you a bit of a hint. If you don't see it in the rooftop scene near the end of the movie, you'll know you have missed it. As far as the story goes, Julie Traymor direction carries the characters into the drug influenced psychedelic pandemonium of the late sixties as dream and drug trip sequences are beautifully portrayed onscreen.

The movie might have drifted into another Yellow Submarine at this point but Traymor suddenly jerks you back with the TV coverage of April 4th, 1968 and then Jo Jo's powerful solo tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King singing "While My Guitar Gently Weeps. Later a seething rendition of "Helter Skelter" against the backdrop of the violent war protests and the terror of the war draws everyone back to reality.

By the end of the movie, the music and singing do not feel out of place or contrived, instead it has all simply become part of the movie as it all became part of the era. Amazingly, the songs were sung by the actors during the original filming, meaning they weren't recorded later and dubbed into the film. The actors, Jim Sturgess as Jude, Evan Rachel Wood as Lucy, Joe Anderson as Max sang well, providing solid and believable musical performances. Dana Fuchs as Sadie and Martin Luther as Jo Jo were phenomenal in their performances as were Joe Cocker, Bono, Eddie Izzard and even Salma Hayack in their cameo singing performances.

In the end of this movie, the music of course was the big star. As the theatre emptied out, I remained, listening to the closing song as it trailed into the credits and I remained through the last note of music as the last of the credits disappeared. As I stood up and followed a couple out of the theatre we heard a crash of thunder from outside which seemed a fitting end to the experience. The movie opens to a full release in the United States on October 9th.

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