Across the Universe
Julie Taymor, Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais
Evan Rachel Wood, Jim Sturgess, Joe Anderson, Dana Fuchs, Martin Luther McCoy, T.V. Carpio, Spencer Liff, Lisa Hogg, Nicholas Lumley, Michael Ryan, Angela Mounsey, Dylan Baker, Robert Clohessy
PG-13 (for some drug content, nudity, sexuality, violence and language)
The Beatles get the modernist treatment as theatre director Julie Taymor roars back to life with her film Across the Universe, a complex musical tale that takes the songs of the Fab Four and creates a Wonderland-style journey into the life of a British immigrant.
Jude (Jim Sturgess) decides to move to America in search of his father whom he believes is a teacher at an Ivy League college. While in America, he bunks with Max (Joe Anderson), the son of a wealthy family whose sister Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood) becomes Jude’s lover. The film then follows these three and their acquaintances as they wind their way through the peace movement leading up to and passing through Vietnam, and finalizing on the roof of a small New York apartment building.
I’ll be quite frank that the music of The Beatles has never been my thing. There’s something about their sound that just turns me off. However, watching Across the Universe, not only do I now have a much better appreciation of their music, but I must say half of it isn’t so bad, especially when linked so strongly with such powerful images that Taymor puts forth.
While a small number of songs seem a bit ill fitting, the rest easily soar, especially the palatable rendition of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and the enigmatic but enjoyable title tune. And sung by the actors in the film, it’s amazing to see what vocal variants each can take with songs that many of us have heard ad nauseum.
Taymor’s script, co-written by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, does a tremendous job cataloguing the peace movement and its various aspects, including both the wealthy and impoverished take on the situation as well as a glimpse into both the military and civil sides of the war. It explores the physical, mental and emotional impact of the turmoil on all manners of people, but most appropriately on the central figures, who could easily be representative of any one of us at some point in our lives.
Some might consider the film too light-hearted considering it’s a musical based on Beatles songs. However, the film delves into the dark emotional side of the war, looking into the hearts of those most affected by it all. It fully explores the peace movement and uses it as a basis to display how perfect life could be if we all took our cue from those hippies and allowed love and not conflict into our hearts. It’s a powerful statement, but one that is easily dismissed by those who see the world in black-and-white and not in shades of gray.
Sturgess’ performance is one of charismatic beauty like very few male musical performances. Akin to the surprising success of Ewan McGregor in Moulin Rouge, Sturgess almost outshines him by creating a character that is at once vulnerable, brave and happy. He’s assisted wonderfully by Wood whose career path has been anything but conventional, especially for an attractive young woman who could have her way with big budget Hollywood. You have to have respect for someone so devoted to her craft that she would rather take on this kind of project than abandon quality for mundanity. Anderson, as the last part of the film’s lead trio, is the weakest of the bunch and while he exaggerates a bit much, the tenable connection to his character makes it fit right in.
Taymor has had a most interesting career, one that’s really hard to pin to one genre. That desire to branch out and create art for its own sake and not for the Hollywood machine makes her a most captivating director. It is certainly no surprise that the woman who set Broadway on its ear with her breathtaking imagery for Disney’s The Lion King, could have crafted the dazzling and magical imagery in Across the Universe.
September 18, 2008