From the first time I saw a trailer for Across the Universe I knew that it was a movie I wanted to see. When I walked out of the theater last night I was not disappointed. Julie Taymor's (Frida and Broadway's The Lion King) latest vehicle is a feast for the eyes and the ears. Combining a sense of new postmodern visual artistry with familiar sound she has breathed new life into music that was already so timeless.
Across the Universe is a period piece, taking another stab at exploring the socio-polical culture of the 1960s (and potentially it's significance today). It is about a young man, Jude (Jim Sturgess), who journeys across the pond to find the GI father he never met. During his journey he meets Max (Joe Anderson) and Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood), a brother and sister pair who are itching to break free of their stuffy New England mold. The trio travels to New York to find their freedom among the musicians, student radicals and druggies who are all looking for the same thing.
But it isn't the story that keeps you sucked into this movie. The plot isn't anything new; the story of alienated youth has been told a million times. The crux of this movie hinges on the music. Throughout the 2 hours 11 minutes of Universe, 31 Beatles songs are woven throughout the narrative. Some fit quite nicely, others just seem to have been thrown in because Taymor really liked the song - there are 2 songs in particular which stood out as not having anything to do with the plot. I Want to Hold your Hand is sung by a high school girl named Prudence (T.V. Carpio) as she lusts after one of her fellow Cheerleaders. Later in the story when Prudence is sad because another crush isn't paying attention to her the cast sings, you guessed it, Dear Prudence, to make her feel better. Perhaps the director was making a statement of the idea of free love that reigned in the 1960s and the lack of tolerance homosexual relationships garnered before the sexual revolution, but that would be a stretch...
However, for the most part the songs did fit quite nicely into the narrative and it further proved that the Beatles tunes are truly timeless. The songs about love is one thing; I don't think anyone would argue that themes of love and loss are universal across time and space, but it also makes the psychedelic songs and the anti-war revolutionary ballads relatable. Not to mention that all of the actors have exceptional voices. Wood and Sturgess stand out as the main roles and they bring all the heart and emotion one would want to a Beatles song, I mean, if you're going to cover the Beatles you better make sure you do it well! The rest of the supporting cast brings their own flair to the songs as well. Dana Fuchs plays Sadie, a Janis Joplin-esque superstar singer wannabe who tours with her lover, JoJo (Martin Luther McCoy) a dead ringer (and guitarist) for Jimi Hendrix. The blending of these musical influences bring another level to the songs as it furthers the transcendence of the music - saying that it works in any time and in any voice, or genre, of music.
The war in Iraq is more present in this movie-awards season than it has been in any previous year, and it has generally been approached with a straightforward, no nonsense mentality. Other than being set in the 1960, Universe has been able to truly capture the spirit of the 60s where music united the peace-movement. Music was a rally tool for protesters and this movie attempts to capture that and perhaps renew that spirit to rebel against a seemingly unjust and amoral war. It is when this happens, when the songs actively bridge the gap between today and yesterday, is when the movie soars. When Jude barges into Lucy's protest headquarters singing Revolution, begging her to know "it will be alright," it's almost as though he is pleading with the audience that no matter how bad it seems now with the quagmire that is the Iraq war, we should know that eventually it will be alright.
All in all it is the music that makes this movie so enjoyable. The plot is rather thin, but if you are a Beatles fan you are more than likely going to see past that and enjoy the sounds emanating from the screen.