Across the Universe (2007)

Rated PG-13. Our ratings: V- 4; L- 4 S/N-5 . Running time: 2 hours 6 min.

Woe is me, that I am an alien in Meshech,
that I must live among the tents of Kedar.
Too long have I had my dwelling
among those who hate peace.
I am for peace;
but when I speak, they are for war.
Psalm 120:5-7

Jude, Lucy, and Max at a NYC anti-war march.

2007 Revolution Studios & Columbia Pictures

Just after the murder of John Lennon I produced a three-screen multimedia production employing songs of the Beatles that gave an overview of the tumultuous events of the Sixties. Thus I was eager to see Julie Taymor’s new film featuring thirty Beatles’ songs, nor was I disappointed. Focusing on the love affair between a Brit from Liverpool—Jude (Jim Sturgess)—and a girl from America’s heartland—Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood)—the filmmakers creatively use the songs of the Fab Four to express the thoughts and feelings of the various characters and to reflect the conflicts then unfolding in the streets of America and on the battlefields of Vietnam.

Jude, a shipyard welder, journeys to America in search of the father whom he knows only through an old photograph his mother has saved from their all too brief life together. He finds him on a university campus, working not as a professor as he had assumed, but as a janitor. The man (Robert Clohessy) is taken aback, but, now having married and sired other children, he is not interested in re-establishing contact. Satisfied that he at least has seen his father, Jude hooks up with a high-living student named Max Carrigan (Joe Anderson) who invites him to his far away home for Thanksgiving. This is where Lucy, Max’s sister, enters the picture. Even though she has a boyfriend just sent off to Vietnam, the two enjoy each other’s company. Despite the opposition of their father, Max drops out of college, and Lucy later joins them in Manhattan where they are caught up in the music, protest and drug culture of bohemian Greenwich Village.

The familiar songs often take on new meaning, “Let It Be,” for example, interpreted in a gospel-song manner, accompanying scenes of two soldiers calling at a home to deliver the dreaded telegram announcing the death of a son. Then at the cemetery, the film cuts back and forth between shots of the bodies of a black and a white soldier. The light-hearted song about teen love “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” takes on a poignancy when the lesbian Prudence (T.V. Carpio) sings it while looking through a window at her musician friend Sadie (Dana Fuchs) who is embracing her lover Jo-Jo (Martin Luther McCoy). Who but Julie Taymor would have envisioned this innocuous song as one of unrequited love? “Strawberry Fields Forever” lends the color red to the sequence about the Vietnam War.

Because he dropped out of college Jude is drafted, the sequence showing his induction beginning with an animated recruitment poster in which Uncle Sam says “I want you!” followed by robot-like drill sergeants turning the recruits into killers and then the recruits in jockey shorts carrying a replica of the Statue of Liberty across a Vietnam battlefield. Films do not get any more creative than this—and I won’t even try to describe the five friends drug-sodden bus ride with guru Dr. Robert (Bono) that ends with a surreal circus scene. The film is about the Sixties, as are many of the Beatles’ songs, but both also are timeless in their themes of love, war, protests, and revolution—and the eternal quest for love and meaning.. If the film has already left, or passed by, your area, be sure to catch it when the DVD version is released. It will bear many repeat viewings, so rich is it in visual imagery . Our lovers and the Beatles were those, like the Psalmist, who were for peace in a time of war.

For Reflection/Discussion

There are spoilers below.

1) Which character, if any, did you identify with the most? What is it that motivates them? What are they seeking?

2) How do you think Jude must have felt when he met his father, and the latter was not really interested in a relationship? Have you longed or searched for something and then was disappointed when you obtained it?

3) How is Max fairly typical of many young adults? Especially in his relationship with his parents? During the Sixties much was made of “the generation gap.” How is this still a factor in family relationships? Yours?

4) What song did you especially enjoy? For example, how does “A Little Help From My Friends” show our need for community?

5) Julie at first has another boyfriend, but what happens to him? How is “Let It Be” appropriately used?

6) When Max drops out, he and his friends become caught up in the anti-war movement: how much of the protest do you think was based on principle, and how much on fear of being enmeshed in the war? Could the latter have a lot to do with why the protestors became so hostile to the authorities and destructive?

7) What do you believe Taymor thinks of military recruitment and training, judging from this sequence? How is military training a dehumanizing process? How is this necessary if it is to be successful?

8) How is Prudence a member of a hidden minority in the Sixties, with no one understanding or espousing her concerns?

9) What do you make of the drug sequence and the search for a guru and such? How was this experience not such a pleasant one for many back then—or now? Why do you think so many young people were drawn to the drug culture? How did it turn out for many to be a false god?

10) What new insights does Tyamor’s interpretation of “Strawberry Fields Forever” provide?

11) What seems to be Jude’s stance in the midst of all the turmoil which Lucy is caught up in? What is his primary vocational interest?

Lucy: We’re in the middle of a revolution Jude. And what are you doing? Doodles and cartoons?

Jude: Well I’m sorry I’m not the man with the mega-phone, but this is what I do.

How does what happen show that the artist cannot stand back without being affected by world events? How does this lead to a rift between the lovers?

12) What is appearing on the TV screens as Jo-Jo sings “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” ? For those old enough to remember the assassination, how is this especially moving?

13) How does Lucy react when she comes upon her anti-war friends making a bomb? How is her reaction like that of the Beatles when they produced “Revolution” ? What wisdom is there in the song? What “message” were they sending to those espousing liberation (black or otherwise” by “any means necessary” ? How might it be related to their “All You Need is Love” ? How is the latter simplistic or naive on the surface, and yet, depending on what one means by “love,” profound?

14) What do you make of the Catholic chaplain dancing like a whirling dervish in the sequence in which Lucy visits her brother in the hospital? A touch of the kind of humor the Beatles were noted for?

15) What does the rooftop concert remind you of? What further obstacles stand in the way of the lovers being reunited?

16) For those wanting to ponder the lyrics of the Beatles’ songs, type into your search engine http://fab4lyrics.stonegauge.com/, where all 200+ songs can be found. Think especially on the line “Nothing’s gonna change my world” from the song that lends its title to the film