Across the Universe

PLOT:

The film’s plot and narrative structure interweave the stories of several characters whose lives cross paths during events set against the backdrop of the turbulent middle 1960s. The story apparently takes place from about 1963, 1964, and 1965.

The story begins in Liverpool, England with a young shipyard worker named Jude Feeny (Jim Sturgess). Against the wishes of both his mother and his girlfriend Molly, Jude enlists in the merchant navy and travels by a ship to the United States of America. He jumps ship in New York City, New York to search for his American G.I. father, Wes Hubert (Robert Clohessy), whom he has never met and who does not know he exists. He learns that his father works at Princeton as a janitor. After meeting his father, Jude has nowhere to go. He befriends a Princeton student, Max Carrigan(Joe Anderson), a rebellious and eccentric young man from a privileged background. Max and his friends come from upper class families who pay for their schooling, so they mess around, drink, and do drugs. When Max goes home for Thanksgiving, bringing Jude withhim, Jude meets Max’s younger sister Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood). After a heated argument withhis parents about his future, Max drops out of college and moves to New York City, New York, accompanied by Jude. Max works as a taxi driver, while Jude pursues work as a freelance artist. They become roommates in a bohemian enclave in the Village, where they share an apartment with others, most notably Sadie (Dana Fuchs), their landlady, who is an aspiring singer and a representation of Janis Joplin. Other residents include Jojo (Martin Luther McCoy), a guitarist representing JimiHendrix, who arrives from Detroit, Michigan after the death of his younger brother during the 12th Street Riot; and Prudence (T. V. Carpio), a young woman who has hitchhiked to New York City, New York from Dayton, Ohio where she was seen pining after a fellow cheerleader. After Lucy’s boyfriend, Daniel (Spencer Liff) is killed in Vietnam, she goes to New York City, New York to visit Max before she starts college, despite the fact that her parents are against the idea.

Romantic relationships develop between Lucy and Jude, and between Sadie and Jojo. One night, Prudence (who seemingly has a crush on Sadie) becomes depressed, and hides in a closet. Upon realizing where she is, the rest of the cast coax her literally and figuratively out of the closet. Prudence mysteriously leaves the group after wandering off enthralled by street performers at a peace rally.

Sadie and her band, the Po Boys (reference to a line in Down on the Corner), withJojo as her lead guitarist, are courted by a prospective manager, who invites them to a book function for an existential drug guru named Doctor Robert, based on Ken Kesey. After serving punch that appears to be laced with LSD (aka Kesey’s Electric Kool-Aid), Doctor Robert lectures that the New Yorkers are two years behind the new agers of California, and urges everyone that “time is of the essence, we have to transcend fast”.

The friends embark with Doctor Robert and his followers on a epic journey inside a psychedelically painted bus named “Beyond”. They wake up not knowing where they are or how they got there, probably somewhere in Upstate New York. They learn Doctor Robert has taken them to the spiritual retreat compound of Dr. Frank Geary, a fellow psychonaut “Navigator”, and leader of a cult called “League of Spiritual Deliverance” (Geary is an allusion to Timothy Leary, who headed the International Foundation for Internal Freedom, from his estate in Millbrook). Geary refuses to see Doctor Robert who, resigned to this news, retires to California. The friends, however, are stranded.

At the cult compound, the friends are reunited with Prudence, who now is a performer in the circus of “Mr Kite,” a merry entertainer, who wants to challenge the world of show business with his “blue people.”

When Max is drafted and sent to Vietnam, Lucy becomes involved in the anti-war movement, while Jude (who, despite potentially having U.S. citizenship due to his American father, is still living without a visa and thus can’t be drafted) remains comparatively apolitical. Jude becomes unhappy withthe amount of time Lucy spends with a political group, Students for Democratic Reform (SDR), suspecting that its leader Paco is a lothario. Jude’s art and his relationship withLucy both start to falter.

Meanwhile, Sadie has been signed to the prospective manager’s record label, but he wants her to drop her backing band. She agrees, and this leads to a bitter break up between Sadie and Jojo, both musically and romantically. Sadie leaves to go on tour, while Jojo plays guitar in a local bar.

Meanwhile, the differences and tensions between Jude and Lucy escalate. One day, Jude storms into the SDR office where Lucy works and points out the hypocrisy and potential violence that they are heading toward, but he is thrown out by Paco’s people. This leads to an argument between the couple, which results in Lucy leaving Jude. Jude finds her at an anti-war demonstration at Columbia University during which many protesters, including Lucy, are arrested. Pushing through the crowd to help her, Jude is also beaten and arrested.

Lucy contacts Jude’s father Wes who convinces the police not to press charges, but he cannot prove that Jude is his son (and thus an American citizen), so Jude is deported to England. Going back to work at the Liverpool shipyards, Jude encounters his old girlfriend, Molly. She is now pregnant by Jude’s old friend and shipyard co-worker Phil Scully, which does not upset the apathetic Jude.

Max is wounded in Vietnam and is repatriated, emotionally and mentally shattered by his experiences and dependent on morphine to relieve his pain, while Lucy remains involved in her anti-war movement, which is becoming more and more violent. She finally leaves the group when she returns to the SDR headquarters one night to find the offices deserted and Paco and some of his followers making bombs. One of their bombs explodes, killing Paco and his confederates and destroying the building, an allusion to the Greenwich Village townhouse explosion that killed three members of the Weather Underground in 1965.

Jude reads about the explosion in a Liverpool newspaper and believes that Lucy has also been killed. However, he subsequently hears from Max that she is alive, and encouraged by a vision of Max singing “Hey Jude” to him and by his understanding mother he arranges to legally return to the United States. He meets Max, who drives him to Sadie’s music headquarters where a rooftop concert is being held by Jojo and Sadie (who have reunited) and their band (which now includes Prudence) singing “Don’t Let Me Down”. Lucy is supposed to be there, but she arrives late and cannot get into the building to join them on the roof. After seeing Sadie’s recording company logo (an abstract strawberry Jude had created – a reference to the Beatles’ Apple Corps), Lucy slowly walks away, overwhelmed with grief.

The police begin to force the group to leave. This is a reference to the Beatles’ rooftop concert on January 30, 1969, where “Don’t Let Me Down” was one of five songs sung by the Beatles before the concert was broken up by the police. Jude manages to evade the police and stay behind on the roof. Hesitantly, he begins to sing “All You Need Is Love”. Sadie, Jojo and the rest of the band hear him, and the police allow them to go back onto the roof to accompany him with their voices and instruments.

Down in the street, Lucy hears Jude as well and tries to enter the building, but is turned away by the police. Max suddenly looks out across the street as everybody else sings and begins to sing “She Loves You” as Jude turns to see Lucy, wearing a diamond necklace, standing on an adjacent roof. They smile at one another with tears in their eyes, and the screen fades out to white clouds and blue sky. This is a reference to “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” which plays in the background.

REVIEW:

As much as I love the music of The Beatles, I expected to love this film, yet I came away disappointed.

Jim Sturgess puts me in mind of a young Paul McCartney. He has that look about him, and if he really is singing throughout this film, he kind of has that sound to his voice. Acting wise, he isn’t to shabby, either, but his character gets a little too emo for my taste about halfway through. He does snap out of that phase, but not before he all but hits rock bottom.

Evan Rachel Wood starts off the film as the ideal 60s American girl, then after her boyfirnedis killed in Vietnam she gradually morphs into a radical. Nothing particularly wrong with that, but I got the sense the writers didn’t mean for that to happen. It should also be noted that she doesn’t do much singing. For a major character in a musical, something just doesn’t sit right with me about that.

The supporting players are all pretty good, but with all the jumping around this film does, its hard to keep up with them and their lives. I did find the story line between Sadie and Jojo, which encompassed all their love and professional problems. I wasn’t too fond of the Prudence storyline. While it is never explicitly said that she is gay, it is quite obvious, but because so little time is spent to develop her, the audience can’t get behind her.

As a musical, this is ok, not great, but far from being subpar. My issue with it is that they remade the BEatles’ music. As with film remakes, I’m no fan of remaking artists songs unless you can do it justice. The only one of these songs that could fall into that category is “Let It Be” which is actually not that far removed from the original version. John Lennon and George Harrison must be turning over in their graves after seeing this, while Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr cringe and count their money.

I don’t want to make it sound like I hated this film, because I didn’t, although I did lose interest halfway through. I think if not for the mutated Beatles music, I may have enjoyed this much more. There is a great love story or 2 going on, but the way the film is edited causes confusion and chaos for the viewer. I can recommend that you see this film, but don’t expect to love it, especially if you’re a Beatles purist.

3 out of 5 stars

2 Responses to “Across the Universe”

  1. […] So, this is a musical about a singing group. Last one of these we got was Mamma Mia!…or was it Across the Universe?, but both of those went in a totally different directions. How is it that with all the […]

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