I have never been a Beatles fan. I have heard their music and I never connected with their lyrics. I don’t know the titles of their songs, except for Hey Jude. But Across the Universe suddenly came out. It’s a movie musical, a movie genre I love to watch, and the trailer just looked inviting. So I sat down with it one afternoon and allowed it to “help me understand” the “story behind every Beatles song.”
Set in the mid-onset of the Vietnam War, the story starts with Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood) and Jude (Jim Sturgess) in a musical opening number set in two different worlds (literally and figuratively)–separated by culture and distance. She’s from America. He’s from Liverpool. How in the world are they going to meet? Well, the guy decides to leave his hometown for a while to look for his father in Princeton University. For a brief moment, father and son meet, and in a twist of fate, meets Max, Lucy’s brother.
From this part, the plot gets thicker and thicker: Max drops out of school and leaves for New York City with Jude. The two enter a bohemian boarding house with a singer landlady named Sadie, a guitarist from Detroit named Jojo, and a lesbian cheerleader from Ohio named Prudence. Lucy, later on, joins them in New York where both she and Jude fall in love. Then, Max gets a notice to join the army to be sent to Vietnam. Despite this, the whole band still finds time for happy trips from street demonstrations to psychedelic road trips. But after Max leaves for Vietnam, tension rises between the relationships of Jojo and Sadie, and Jude and Lucy. Apparently, Sadie decides to leave to be a solo artist, while Jude and Lucy gape over their differences over the on-going war: Jude indulges in his art while Lucy joins the anti-war protest group. Jude and Lucy eventually split up. In a demonstration rally, Lucy is caught by local police. Jude tries to help her but he gets wounded and imprisoned in the process. Jude’s father comes to his aid but is saddened by the fact that he would have to be deported since he entered the US illegally.
Back at his home, Jude finds a headline that says that a number of anti-war protesters were killed in an explosion. He (including me) assumes Lucy to be involved, and is dead. But as it turned out, Lucy left the group before the explosion and is still alive. Max (who was able to come home alive and sane despite traumatic experiences in Vietnam) and Jude were able to connect and arranges for Jude to legally enter the US for him and Lucy to meet. They did meet, after Jude sings All You Need is Love.
I am amazed at how clever the writers and producers of this film are. A movie based on the music of a band famous over 45 years ago? And the precise use of a particular song to a particular scene–it fits just right, like Cinderella and the glass slipper. Also noteworthy here is the use of masks, extensive make-up, old-school artwork, and representative dance numbers just like in school musical plays. In one part, the film editors also used mono and psychedelic colors to give variety in portraying a scene. The edited scenes seemed kind of ancient, given the opportunities of modern film-making, but remember, it is the time of the Second Indochina War. It IS supposed to be retro-looking.
I must say, after watching the film, I felt a connection with the songs of the Beatles, especially If I Fell, which, in the film, was sang endearingly by Lucy. I actually appreciated the lyrics from the modern cover version! And now, here I am, about to Google the lyrics of the song. This is one movie musical you should watch!