“All You Need Is Love”
Across the Universe:
Julie Taymor & The Beatles
By Jen Johans
|Essentially, the film can be best surmised as a classic love story between the
worldlier, blue collar working class British Jude (Sturgess) and the beautiful, smart,
young, compassionate upper class American idealist Lucy (Wood) whose innocence
is yet another casualty of the tumultuous era when she loses her first serious
boyfriend in Vietnam.
While an overview is especially beneficial in a film of this epic scale, since I’ll be
walking through the plot throughout, I wanted to go with an excerpt of Stephen
Holden’s summary from The New York Times:
father, meets Lucy through her brother, Max (Joe Anderson), a student at
Princeton, where the father is discovered working as a janitor."
Max shocks his parents by announcing that he is dropping out of college. He
and Jude drive to New York and settle in a sprawling East Village tenement
and are soon joined by Lucy.
“Their landlady, Sadie… is the movie’s resident earth mother. An aspiring
rock singer, she sounds like a warmer, more controlled Joplin. Her
triumphal “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?” announces Lucy’s arrival in
“Rounding out the bohemian household are Jo-Jo (Martin Luther McCoy), a
guitarist who arrives from Detroit by Greyhound after his younger brother’s
death in the Detroit riots, and Prudence (T.V. Carpio), an Asian-American
lesbian cheerleader who hitchhikes to New York from Dayton, Ohio…"
“Jo-Jo, who suggests a softened Jimi Hendrix, becomes Sadie’s on-again-off-
again boyfriend and sometime lead guitarist. …”
Then as Roger Ebert best sums it up, “they all go through a hippie period on Dr.
Robert's Magic Bus, where the doctor (Bono) and his bus bear a striking resemblance
to Ken Kesey's magical mystery tour. They also get guidance from Mr. Kite (Eddie
Izzard).” However, later, ultimately, “While Jude embraces art, Lucy, who lost her
first boyfriend in Vietnam, gravitates toward antiwar activism after Max receives his
draft notice and reluctantly leaves to fight in the war,” (Holden).
To create Universe, Taymor and her co-writers Ian La Frenais and Dick Clement
selected thirty-three of the two hundred plus songs from the Beatles catalogue to
construct not only a love story but one that chronicled the various movements of the
1960’s and the way they affected all groups from the hippies to the militants, Vietnam
war veterans to British immigrants and gender double standards as well as the lives
of minorities (whether African-American or Asian).
As she shared in the DVD featurette “Creating the Universe,” in asking how that
specific period speaks to us now as a global society post 9/11, Taymor decided she
wanted to avoid the trappings of a “history musical” and, while working in the events
of the decade and their influence on society, aim for an old-fashioned feel first and
foremost since the Beatles songs express such strong emotions. In doing so, she
fought against inserting it with overt political statements or negativity but preferred
to create a cinematic “social statement,” hoping to inspire today’s youth by the
passion of the youth from the 60’s by showing echoes of how that decade reflected
issues we’re still facing today (DVD).
According to an interview with Taymor from ComingSoon.net, Across the Universe
was originally titled All You Need Is Love, but it was changed by Taymor not just for
fear that in cynically contemporary society that “very deep statement” would be
considered “a very trite statement,” but also because she stated her belief that, “you
have to experience the dark side and go through all of the experience of those
characters before you can say the words, ‘All You Need is Love. Across the Universe…
is much more appropriate because also this movie needs to speak to everybody in the
world and the Beatles belonged to everybody in the world.”
After the film begins with Jude’s melancholically beautiful recollection on a British
sandy beach, we flash back years earlier to the origins of the story which find Jude in
a gritty UK club modeled after the Cavern Club where the Beatles performed in the
early 60’s (IMDb) as he dances with his girlfriend just before venturing to the states to
find his biological father. While the British characters dance into the wee small
hours of a raucous morning, simultaneously Taymor cuts the action to a decidedly
different view of young love as Lucy and her boyfriend Daniel, dance with others
dressed to the nines at their high school prom, just before Daniel (echoing Jude) is
getting ready to ship off for Vietnam.
Typical for the time, the men ready themselves for adventure while the women stay
home, yet it’s a lively introduction that not only sets the fast pace of the two hour
plus film but also gets us accustomed to Taymor’s bold decision to have female
characters singing the formerly male lyrics. Taymor explained her reasoning to
ComingSoon.net by noting that The “Beatles at that time were channeling fifteen-
year-old girls. That’s why the girls were going nuts, because they sang their feelings.”
In 1984, while questioned in The Lost Beatles Interviews, poet Allen Ginsberg saw it
complete masculinity allied with complete tenderness and vulnerability.
And when that note was accepted in America, it did more than anything or
anyone to prepare us for some kind of open-minded, open-hearted
relationship with each other and the rest of the world.” (371)
Given Ginsberg’s homosexual orientation and his last statement, it makes the perfect
lead in for the next outstanding clip (following the photo), again featuring a female
vocalist but as opposed to Wood’s upbeat “Hold Me Tight,” this time, we’re fully
aware of the gender switch when the action moves to Ohio. There in a bravura,
heartbreaking performance, we first encounter T.V. Carpio’s sad outcast Prudence as
she looks longingly at a beautiful cheerleader, singing “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” to
the female object for whom she’s afraid to have affection.
As Ebert noted, “When Prudence sings 'I Want to Hold Your Hand,' for example, I
realized how wrong I was to ever think that was a happy song. It's not happy if it's a
hand you are never, never, never going to hold. The love that dare not express its
name turns in sadness to song.” And indeed, quickly afterwards, she realizes that as
an Asian-American lesbian in the 60’s, the Midwest is possibly the last place she
should live, soon hitching a ride for New York.
|Left to Right:
|Left to Right:
Jude & Lucy.
|Left to Right:
Jo-Jo & Sadie.
|Left to Right:
|Text Only (c) Jen Johans. filmintuition.com
|Note: When originally posted in 2008, the embedded videos
we found online were all in working order. However, due to
Sony Pictures copyright violation, a majority of the clips have
now been removed from YouTube. We've chosen to leave all
of the original videos throughout the piece to give you a
reference point of where to follow along when you watch the
film on your own to best appreciate the essay.