Across the Universe

13 Apr

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.


Posted by on April 13, 2008 in Music History, music legends


11 responses to “Across the Universe

  1. Bama

    April 14, 2008 at 12:56 pm

    Uhh…I go away for a few days and I’ve missed so much! Oh my goodness!

    I haven’t seen this movie yet so I had to skim a lot of the “plot/storyline” stuff…but now I’m DYING to see it!!

    Also, can I just say, this right here is the reason you RAWK:

    “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.”

    LOL-I would say that leisure suits would’ve ruined my childhood…for sure!! Haha!

  2. music maven

    April 14, 2008 at 1:11 pm

    No joke, the fashion of the ’70s was traumatic, in itself. Some people have never recovered.

  3. shrewspeaks

    April 14, 2008 at 1:13 pm

    This movie is such a paradox for me…while I LOVED moments (thank you Eddie Izzard) most of the time I was dying for the original vocal passions that the Beatles bring to these tunes (It Won’t Be Long comes to mind)

    Additionally, I didn’t see the need to nail these songs to the 60’s. Are the times so different? I would have liked to seen these songs applied to today’s morass of issues.

    Ultimately, the momentswith Joe Cocker, and Izzard rank as the best on screen from this flick.

  4. shrewspeaks

    April 14, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    OMG MM where did you find that image of Patrick Duffy?

  5. Bama

    April 14, 2008 at 1:34 pm

    LOLing all over the place! Love the visual!

  6. Bama

    April 14, 2008 at 1:35 pm

    Oh…and Shrew…totally agree. It would have been a real coup if they had applied the music to our time. It would highlight the fact that the Beatles are forever!

  7. music maven

    April 14, 2008 at 2:56 pm

    While I would like to see the Beatles’ songbook applied to today’s times, I’m afraid that it would get a little Romeo & Juliet-ish.

    Perhaps a few songs to apply to today…

    Money — To the backdrop of the Fed meetings.

    Hard Day’s Night — The Britney Spears Saga

    Here Comes the Sun — Global Warming

    Get Back — The Immigration Issue

    Nah, just doesn’t work in today’s time, for me. Too much musical water under the bridge.

    For me, the music of the Beatles was never really applied to the times of the Beatles. Maybe it was my age, but I more equated the turbulent times with music from Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, Hendrix, Dylan and even Peter/Paul/Mary. The Beatles’ were always a little on the fringe, even with Lennon’s bed-in, etc. I think that they lost a little street cred at the beginning when they were in suits and neat hair. The other artists I mentioned came straight out of the hippie culture and didn’t have any pre-conceived image other than radical.

    That said, I think The Beatles outside of the late sixties and early seventies married to today’s times would be too real in our, now, synthetic world.

  8. Shrewspeaks

    April 14, 2008 at 10:01 pm

    Oh what a sad thought that we cannot connect with deeply felt passions and reckon with such raw realities.

    I find you comment about the Dead, Hendrix and Jefferson Airplane to be very true they are rooted in the times much more than the Beatles. I guess by this reasoning alone I wanted the story a bit more divorced from the 60’s. To me it is like Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe…while Marlowe’s “The Special Case of Doctor Faustus” was a rousing success in it’s day…Marlowe’s work benefits from context of time, while Shakespeare’s work indeed for the most part is timeless, speaking the truths of many ages. But I am biased…for both Beatle and Bard. 😉

  9. amydeclouet

    April 15, 2008 at 12:59 pm

    Dawn!!! I LOVE this post! I really really adored this movie when I dragged my non-musical-enjoying husband to the theater to view it! I became a Beatles fan my 1st semester in college when I met my “hippie” friends at Central Connecticut State. I had never heard anything before like the Sgt Peppers album, and I’ve been a fan ever since. I almost jumped to my feet in the theater when Bono showed up belting out “I am the Walrus!” Incredible! I loved it!
    Mike actually ended up liking the film; how did Mr. D enjoy it?

  10. music maven

    April 15, 2008 at 9:42 pm

    See the link above regarding sublime musicals.

    Mr. D has a penchant for them. Moulin Rouge is one of his favorites.

    He enjoyed this one because he was so familiar with the times and he actually knew the music. I wonder if Chris liked it….he’s the biggest Beatles’ fan I know.

  11. beatlesfan102

    October 21, 2008 at 1:32 pm

    that movie portrayed the whole outlook of the 60’s with the race riots in detroit, the drug use and hippy dressed people and of course the beatles. It showed and referenced so much about that time period i just thought it was absolutley amazing. its by far my favorite movie.


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