Posted in Film Commentary

Review: Across the Universe

And now, ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you Across the Universe! I’m going to admit, I’m reviewing this because I see it as the anti-Batman film. It’s bright and colorful, everyone is singing, all you need is LOVE, and of course there’s this scene:

Now if any of you remember Batman Begins, you remember Rachel giving Bruce crap because “it’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you”. Honestly, I think both of these films have legitimate points in these lines, but I’m not going to go into that here. If you want to discuss it feel free to leave me a comment, but for now I’m going to go ahead to the actual review.

Being a musical comprised of Beatles songs, I think it’s appropriate to start with the music. While I personally love all the renditions of the songs done for this movie, I don’t think all of them belong. The songs themselves are great all things considered, I just feel like a few of them weren’t tied to the story very well if at all. For instance, Prudence singing “I Want to Hold Your Hand” long before she becomes an integral part of the story seems pointless. The only useful knowledge gained from that scene is that Prudence is a lesbian, but this gets explained later during “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”. In fact, more than one person I have talked to did not realize that Prudence was a lesbian from this scene so it’s only purpose isn’t even very clear. While “I Want to Hold Your Hand” is a great song, it was not necessary to have this scene.

Another song that was guilty of being good but pointless to the plot was “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite”. Eddie Izzard did a great job improvising during the song and it was a neat scene, but it did absolutely nothing for the story. One of the main things I learned in college was never, under any circumstances, should you include scenes that do not add to the story in some way. In fact, not only does this scene not add anything to the story but it is completely separated from it. The film does not go back to the overall storyline until after “Because”. Sure, these are good songs, but they should have been kept as bonus tracks on the soundtrack.

While not every song was important to the story, the songs were for the most part fun and well-placed. Some served as montages that lead into and explained things that were coming up, so it was nice that those songs had purpose. For instance, “Let it Be” was a great scene in this movie as it captured the emotional side of two historical events while bridging two completely separate plot points (Lucy’s boyfriend dying and Jo deciding to leave for New York).

Overall, most of the songs added to the story (as well they should, since the story was derived from them to an extent) and I think the performances were about as good as can be expected from people that aren’t The Beatles themselves.

Anyone that knows me knows that I usually can’t stand love stories or relationships in movies. People have really horrible expectations about how they’re relationships should be because of movies and most of the times movies don’t show you anything past the “Honeymoon phase”. Thus, people think as soon as things start to settle down and get normal and comfortable that their relationship is failing and terrible and this can’t really be love. I actually really appreciate this movie for not fully perpetuating this idea. I can’t say it skips this entirely because of the “All You Need is Love” ending, but the rest of the movie does a pretty good job of portraying a fairly accurate relationship between Lucy and Jude.

The nice thing about the portrayal of their relationship is that it shows their entire initial relationship and not just how they got together. Yes, that is a part of it too, but most movies would end at the “If I Fell in Love With You” scene and make it seem like the stars had realigned because the two main characters got together. We get to see Lucy and Jude become content, then bitter, and then resentful. We get to see the realization from Lucy that maybe Jude isn’t who she thought he was, and we get to see Jude’s reaction to feeling like he’s not as important to her as the anti-war effort and wondering if he ever will be. I honestly feel like the ending of this movie is perfect because they can sing about how “All You Need is Love” all they want, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re standing on separate rooftops. This is the physical representation of all the things they have gone through and how much they have hurt each other. They are not going to be able to bridge that gap easily and it will take time to become the loving couple they once were. It will be hard and it will be full of tears and hesitant forgiveness, but they will try because they love each other. That is what “All You Need is Love” really means, it’s being willing to put up with all the hard stuff because in the end you love each other and you don’t want to give that up just because things are difficult.

The rest of the plot points and characters are basically just used as foil. Daniel dying and Max getting drafted are meant to show why Lucy cares so much about the anti-war effort in the first place, Prudence is there to show Lucy’s initial hesitation about whether she should let herself love Jude, Jo and Sadie go through nearly the same relationship curve as Jude and Lucy, Jude’s relationship back in London is meant to show how he’s never experienced true love before, etc. I’m not saying these characters and plot points aren’t important because they definitely are. But one must keep in mind that at the end of the day, their purpose is to make you reflect on and understand Lucy and Jude’s relationship.

Finally, we have the visuals. Julie Taymor is known for her movies being eccentric due to her involvement with theater among other reasons. I could probably write an entire article about the visual effects in this movie alone but I don’t have the time so you’ll have to accept a condensed version. Being a movie derived from songs by The Beatles, it is practically required that this movie feature crazy visuals and this movie delivers. There are plenty of scenes that are simply idealistic versions of 60s New York, but there are also a ton of scenes that are meant to represent the mindset of the characters and/or what they’re thinking.

This movie is as much a fantasy as it is historical fiction and I think the way the two were blended was pulled off well. The fantasy scenes do imply drug use, but this is a movie about the 60s so it is not unbelievable or jarring. In fact, it is welcomed to an extent. If this movie were a solid, straight representation of 60s New York it would be boring, but adding these scenes with more colors than you think you can handle or situations most people would never actually find themselves in gives your eye a break from all the browns and muted colors that represent the real world.

There are plenty of movies that use drugs as a gateway to explore other topics or feelings, but this film did a really good job of making the audience feel like you were along for the drug trip with the characters without feeling uneasy. Without the crazy visuals, we would simply be voyeurs watching a bunch of 60s hippie kids get high. Because we are able to witness these crazy scenes, we feel invested and intrigued instead of left out.

Honestly, I would have to say that this is one of my favorite movies because it breaks the molds that so many movies adhere to so strongly. The love story is realistic despite being set in a half-fantastical setting and the ending isn’t some ridiculous climactic scene where everything is perfect. There is still so much left to be done by the characters at the end of the movie, but it does not need to be explained because we already know that they’re going to try to make it work. This movie has a lot of personal attachments for me so I hope it is clear that I pushed emotions aside for this review as much as I could.  Either way this movie is great and you should watch it.

Favorite Scene: