WARNING: Spoilers included in this post. Don’t read if you don’t want to know.
Admittedly, I am sometimes a little slow on the uptake. And, as for movies, I’m really slow. Our movie experience revolves around Comcast’s On Demand movies, so we are at the mercy of their “New Releases”. Me and Mr. D are usually good for one or two per weekend and we usually take turns choosing the movie. You know, love-story-friends and lovers-chick flicks vs. aliens-shoot ‘em up-fast cars-pyrotechnics.
Over the past few weeks, I had acquiesced to alot of action/slasher/super hero/pirate flicks, so Saturday night was my turn. After agonizing between The Waitress and No Reservations, I saw Across the Universe. Because I knew of my husband’s odd penchant for sublime musicals, I chose the Oscar-nominated flick that featured a plethora of Beatles’ tunes to set the backdrop for the turbulent times of roughly, 1966 – 1971. Those years just happened to be when Mr. D “came of age”, so I figured he would at least be able to identify with the story and the music. (I’m selfless like dat.)
Across the Universe opens with the lead character, Jude, sitting on the beach. He introduces the movie with the wonderful Lennon lead, Girl that transitions into Helter Skelter:
The scene sets up the story which begins with the character of Lucy (played by Evan Rachel Wood), boppin’ to the crocodile rock at the prom with her soon-to-be-soldier boyfriend. They rock it out in a 50’s white-bred naivety to Hold Me Tight, while Jude rocks out to the same tune across the Atlantic in a Liverpool dive with the band looking oddly familiar, playing at Liverpool’s Cavern, where The Beatles performed in the early days.
Hold Me Tight, Jim Sturgess & Evan Rachel Wood
Not a bad rendition when put in the context of the times that the song would have been heard by anxious young teenagers embarking on life and the radical changes about to bestow those lives.
Hold Me Tight, The Beatles
Jim Sturgess is the young actor who deftly plays Jude. His vocals are reminiscent of Ewan MacGregor in Moulin Rouge, but his acting a bit better. Set in Liverpool and then New England and New York, the movie chronicles young Jude’s quest to find his father, a U.S. soldier stationed in England during WWII.
Jude hops a freighter to America on his quest to find what’s missing and upon arriving to find his father is actually a maintenance engineer at Princeton, he meets Lucy’s brother, Max (played by Joe Anderson). Max is a hard-partying, never may care rogue who is decidedly uninterested in remaining in college. Of course, a rousing version of With A Little Help from My Friends sets the perfect college frat party.
With a Little Help from My Friends, Joe Anderson
A bit more manic than the original, it conveys the appropriate emotion. There’s a certain parallel between Max and Ringo, in that Max is a background character that becomes the thread that holds it all together.
With a Little Help from My Friends, The Beatles
Now, Across the Universe incorporates 34 Beatles’ compositions throughout the movie, so I’ll try to stick to the most prolific and why I deem them to be so.
Max takes Jude home with him for Thanksgiving where Jude becomes smitten with Lucy, however Lucy is still wrapped up in her boyfriend who has been recently shipped off to Vietnam. Max informs his parents that he’s dropping out of school and he and Jude decide to move to The Village in NYC.
At the same time, we are introduced to a couple of new characters whose lives will shortly intersect with Max’s and Jude’s lives. Prudence is introduced as a lesbian cheerleader who longingly sings I Want to Hold Your Hand from afar to her head cheerleader love. (I cannot make this up)
I Want to Hold Your Hand, T.V. Carpio
Director Julie Taymor does a fantastic job of using Beatles’ song in a non-traditional way and conveying a totally different feel from the songs that are so ingrained to the psyche of America. Comparing this version of I Want to Hold Your Hand to The Beatles’ smash inaugural hit, creates a stark juxtaposition.
I Want to Hold Your Hand, The Beatles
Likely my favorite song of the whole movie is the touching and absolutely appropriate use of Let it Be. Used for the backdrop of the Detroit race riots of 1967, it introduces the character of Jojo, played by Martin Luther McCoy.
The song informs us of the death of Jojo’s young brother and in a world away, Lucy’s soldier boyfriend.
Let it Be, Carol Woods/Timothy T. Mitchum
While Let it Be has always been a passionate song, the slow, disconsolate version pierces the soul in a way the original does not.
Let it Be, The Beatles
Leaving the destruction and despair behind, both JoJo and Lucy head to New York, where they also come to live with Sadie (Dana Fuchs), the Janis Joplin-ish landlord. In Come Together, we are treated to a perfect cameo by Joe Cocker as a homeless man in the subway.
Come Together, Joe Cocker
It’s amazing how all of these Beatles’ tunes inspire such passion in others. While they were revolutionary in the late 60’s, they are mild when compared to today’s fare. However, all of these songs provide such passionate and highly musical versions.
Come Together, The Beatles
The story gets a little complicated from here on out but we are treated to another cameo, this time by Bono as spiritual guru “Dr. Robert”:
I Am the Walrus, Bono
This is one of the few songs in the movie that actually is very similar to the original.
I Am the Walrus, The Beatles
Dr. Robert takes them all on a “trip”, in more ways than one, to see Mr. Kite, but alas find the wonderful Eddie Izzard as the ringmaster.
Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite, Eddie Izzard
While Eddie doesn’t really sing the song, he gets the point across. I’ve often marveled at The Beatles obvious escape from the norm on Sgt. Pepper’s.
Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite, The Beatles
Through all of this Lucy and Jude are in love and Max is caught by the draft and sent for induction into the U.S. Army. Now, this is where the symbolism and hyperbole get a little out of control, but hey…it was the 60’s. Everything was out of control.
I Want You
Mr. D and I were having a running conversation throughout the movie and with this scene, he recanted to me his experience that he says was eerily similar to this scene, except for the fact that nobody was wearing underwear. He said that there wasn’t one person there the day he and his brother went for physicals that was NOT deemed 1-A. If you knew your name, you were in. As it happens, Mr. D and his brother happened to be switching colleges and were “caught” between semesters. A few phone calls from his grandfather and they were luckily deferred, however the memory was still very vivid for him even after 40 years.
At this point, I share with him that these scenes bring back vivid memories for me too. From 1964-1974, my formative years, the evening news brought war, corruption, poverty and violence into our living rooms each and every night. I remember getting Christmas cards as a kid and thinking that there would never be “peace on earth”. I thought this was the norm and for Mr. D, a child of the idyllic 50’s, this was absolutely abnormal.
I think that’s why my generation is so cynical, always waiting for the other shoe to drop. While we were privileged to experience some of the best music ever, the times we grew up in sucked. From a war nobody believed in to multiple assassinations to Watergate to leisure suits to the Iranian Hostage Crisis, all I can recall from the events of my childhood was pretty depressing. Whereas for Mr. D, the tough stuff didn’t start until he was an adult. His childhood was full of hundreds of Father Knows Best moments and glory days of American expansion.
But I digress…
A lot transpires, but Sadie and the Po-Boys, which includes Jojo gets a gig at The Filmore and a smokin’ version of Oh Darlin’ is delivered by both, including some Hendrix-esque licks from Jojo.
Oh Darlin’, Dana Fuchs & Martin Luther McCoy
I think the director did a fantastic job in putting these songs in context and they all flowed very nicely into the story….or perhaps the story flowed into the songs. Nevertheless, it brought new meaning to many of the old Beatles’ standards and definitely “worked”.
Oh Darlin’, The Beatles
Another of my favorite uses of a Beatles’ song to convey a point in this movie was Jim Sturgess’ delivery of Revolution when Lucy is more occupied in the protest culture than with him.
Revolution, Jim Sturgess
Perhaps it’s the visual implications of the song, but the movie version of this song really brings home a significant meaning to a song that had significant impact, but in more of a generic way. Even through turbulent times and distinct messages in their songs, The Beatles’ songs still had an upbeat, hopeful sound.
Revolution, The Beatles
The movie includes one of my absolute favorite Beatles’ songs, While My Guitar Gently Weeps. Director Julie Taymor deftly uses the tune to display Jojo’s reaction to the assassination of Martin Luther King and his longing for his lady love, Sadie.
While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Martin Luther McCoy
Likely George Harrisons’ crowning glory, his version in enhance by the lead guitar being handled by one Mr. Eric Clapton.
While My Guitar Gently Weeps, The Beatles
After Jude gets deported back to England and Max returns from Vietnam and recovers from his wounds, he reminisces about his good friend and hopes for his return. Of course, it is captured in the great Hey Jude.
Hey Jude, Max Anderson
It’s hard to ever top Paul McCartney’s vocal on this classic and while Max’s version was passable, it doesn’t rival the original.
Hey Jude, The Beatles
The whole story ultimately culminates in a rooftop reunion concert of Sadie and the Po-Boys with a rousing rendition of Don’t Let Me Down that is in parallel with The Beatles’ famed impromptu rooftop concert in London.
Don’t Let Me Down, Dana Fuchs & Martin Luther McCoy
However, nothing will ever compare to this original.
Don’t Let Me Down, The Beatles
Remember, these are only a fraction of the 34 Beatles’ songs included in the movie. I’m not a big fan of musicals, but this one was enjoyable. Maybe it was the familiarity of music and the times, but both Mr. D and I thought it was definitely worth the $4.99 on Pay-Per-View.
The synergy of themes and characters are fun, with all the characters’ names straight out of Beatles’ song lore. That, and the use of the prolific Beatles’ songbook set against the turbulent times and this story, make it thoroughly enjoyable.
If you are a Beatles’ fan and haven’t seen this, I highly recommend doing so. If you’ve seen it, I encourage your comments on what you thought about the movie. If you are anywhere between the ages of 60 and 40, you’ll likely enjoy this movie, as well, as you can surely identify with all of the happenings and the historical context of the story.