Across the Universe
by Dianne Lawrence
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There’s a saying that if you remember the ’60s, you weren’t there. After seeing Across the Universe, if you don’t have a full-on flashback, you definitely weren’t there. Astonishingly talented director/writer Julie Taymor, and her writers Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais, have taken every thread of that critical, cultural revolution and woven a beautifully detailed whole cloth. Well known for her brilliant and exhilarating imagination (The Lion King, Titus, Frida), Ms. Taymor takes us into the heart of the Beatles music while spinning out the story of one of the most transitional cultural moments of the 20th Century. The magical ’60s seem to be tailor made for her.
In the first scene, we find Jude sitting alone on the beach of an English shoreline. Played by Jim Sturgess (who seems to embody the McCartney romantic Beatle role), he gazes into the camera and sings “Is there anybody going to listen to my story…” with a plaintive, soulful melancholy that instantly pulls us into the film. The story tells us how Jude takes a sad song and makes it better. He’s working the docks in Liverpool when he decides he needs to go to Connecticut and find his dad, an American soldier who had a fling with his mum during the war. Meanwhile, back in suburban America, Lucy, played by Evan Rachel Wood with sweet blonde cheerfulness, is at the prom dancing to “Hold Me Tight” with the love of her life, Daniel (Spencer Liff), before he is shipped off to Viet Nam. Her brother, Max (Joe Anderson), is the hipster rebel at the school where Jude’s father happens to work as a janitor. Eventually ditching his parents’ plans for him, Max teams up with Jude (whose dad isn’t all that interested), and they head to the big city and find a room at Sadie’s (Dana Fuchs as the Janis Joplin stand-in) crash pad. When Daniel inevitably dies in Viet Nam, Lucy eventually comes out of her innocent cocoon and follows her brother into the city. Joining them is Prudence (T.V. Carpio), a barely closeted lesbian. Through all the psychedelics, political activism, art-making, soul-searching, ambitions, war, and the discovery of all of Plato’s descriptions of love, this amazing cast sings, dances, and evokes the soul of the Beatles’ music and the times to perfection. There are surprise performances by Bono as the Merry Prankster leader of the bus. He does a delirious rendition of “I Am the Walrus” as the bus makes its way to Eddie Izzard’s commune/circus universe, where Ms. Taymor’s imagination is unleashed in her trademark joyful, mad collage of song, wild imagery, and puppets.
I actually was a dedicated habitué of the ’60s and went to see the film with another graduate of the ’60s School of Life, and Julie Taymor’s faithfulness to its spirit and gorgeous, symbolic imagery swept us up like the ’60s zeitgeist had once pulled us in. Highly recommended for anyone who wants to get a sense of the times or just simply enjoy the flashback.
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