Evan Rachel Wood and Jim Sturgiss in Across the Universe (2007)
If you are not of the belief that the Beatles are the greatest and most important band in the history of rock and roll, then you are wrong. In Across the Universe we have 30 of their songs on display, come to life in a movie of astounding courage, visual inventiveness and the firm belief that all you need is love. That we can do it without making use of their best song (“Help”), their most beautiful song (“Here Comes the Sun”), their most poetic (“Eleanor Rigby”) or any of the songs written for their own first shot at the movies (“A Hard Day’s Night”) makes you understand the depth and breadth of the music they gave us in just eight years.
In the last several years at the movies, I have had my heart shattered (In America), my vision realized on screen (Lord of the Rings), my comic books come to life brilliantly (Batman Begins, X2) and disastrously (Daredevil, Fantastic Four) and my belief that love will win over all first reaffirmed (Elizabethtown), then shattered (Brokeback Mountain). This is the first film, that from the first minute, I absolutely wish I had written.
This is not, as Jude would have us believe in the first few lines, the story “all about the girl who came to stay.” In some ways, this is not even the story of Jude, the shipdock welder from Liverpool at loose in 1968 Greenwich Village. This is the story of the sixties, of the Beatles, of today.
There is a story, of course, a love story of Jude, dancing in a leather jacket in a Liverpool club that looks, not too surprisingly like the Cavern Club and how he comes to America and falls in love with Lucy, the clean cut American girl dancing at the prom with the boyfriend soon to be off to Vietnam. Their connection is her brother Max, and while at one point, he does have a silver hammer, he, at least, does not actually use it to kill anyone.
These names all come from Beatles songs, of course, as do Prudence, Sadie and Jo Jo. Not everyone gets their song on screen, although thankfully Prudence does, since it is a transcendental reminder that “Dear Prudence” is one of the most beautiful things Lennon and McCartney ever wrote. It’s not just the names, as the Beatles are alive everywhere, from the record label, to little asides, and only naturally, when Prudence comes climbing into their lives and Sadie questions where she comes from, what else can Jude say but “she came in through the bathroom window.”
The songs are not just on dazzling display, but also sung anew, both by young actors, and veteran singers (and let’s just say here, that I have been right for years in my claim that Bono and Robin Williams look alike). And these new voices don’t just provide words, they give us a different look at these songs. Is “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” a happy little love song or a reminder of what you can’t have? Is “All You Need is Love” an anthem or a plea? Is “I am the Walrus” a drug trip or a different viewpoint on life. The answer to the last question is, probably both.
Who knows what reaction you will have to this film. What it made me do is go home, crank up the volume on every Beatles song ever recorded and remember that all you need is love. All you need is love. Love is all you need.