“All You Need Is Love”
Across the Universe:
Julie Taymor & The Beatles
By Jen Johans
|Upon their arrival, Max and Jude are thrilled to meet their sexy new landlord, Dana
Fuchs’ Sadie in a role created by Taymor especially for the singer who’d starred in
Love, Janis on Broadway (IMDb).
However, the youthful innocence on display early on ends abruptly when Lucy learns
that Daniel is dead and simultaneously we cut to the Detroit riots.
There in a stirring rendition of “Let It Be” first sung by a child who becomes a victim
himself which grows into a heartbreaking gospel chorus, we witness Lucy grieve on
the east coast along with the mourners in Michigan. We also meet Martin Luther
McCoy’s Jo-Jo as he leaves Detroit for New York City and catch our first glimpse of
both the era's darkness to come and Taymor’s film from the “Let It Be” and “Come
Together" sequences as Jo-Jo begins his own quest east.
While incidentally, John Lennon first wrote "Come Together" to be the official
gubernatorial campaign song for Timothy Leary before his campaign fell apart due
to his activities with drugs, to Generation X, it was an even more recognizable song
due to its cover by Aerosmith, who’d performed it in the film version of Sgt. Pepper
In Universe, the song is performed by Joe Cocker, who also appears in a series of
cameos as a bum, pimp (below), etc. Cocker is perhaps best known to Beatles fan for
his cover of “With a Little Help From My Friends,” and in lending a little help to
Universe, he helps bridge the tonal transition that moves Taymor’s film out of the
first act and into the next.
It’s also the number that serves to link Jo-Jo with Sadie, Max and Jude and also ends
with the introduction of Prudence to the group as she comes in “through the
bathroom window,” to quote another Beatles lyric.
Later, preferring to spend the summer with her brother Max in New York rather than
visit Europe with her wealthy parents, Lucy leaves her suburban existence,
ironically trying to reassure her worried mom that, “the big bad city’s not gonna get
me.” Taymor makes this line instantly ironic when she cues a passionate
performance by Sadie singing “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?” as Lucy meets
everyone at the Café Huh? which is a reference to Greenwich Village’s famous Café
No longer dressed in knee socks, neatly pressed blouses and skirts, we see a much
different looking, casual and more subdued Lucy, still trying to come to grips with
Picking up on her mood, Jude impulsively leaves his date to go for a walk with Lucy
wherein she confesses that a military order has arrived by mail for Max and she can
barely bring herself to give it to him. Helping her out, Jude and the others sit at a
diner with Max all swapping stories of possible ways to get out of the draft, ranging
from swallowing cotton balls to make a shadow on an x-ray to eating beets so that
his urine will resemble blood, but Jo-Jo, who has already served tells him that even if
he burns his letter, he still has to report.
While Max continues to joke about the situation with the rest, over the following
days Lucy finds a shoulder to lean on in the form of Jude as they grow closer together
and eventually become lovers.
Just as inevitably as they fall into one another’s arms, the day arrives when Max
needs to report to headquarters to get checked over by Uncle Sam.
In the film’s most politically charged, masterfully audacious and impressive
sequence set to “I Want You/She’s So Heavy,” that seems to have been envisioned by
several wholly original revelations by Taymor, relating the lyrics to the military
process and war. Additionally, she reveals in the DVD how she began imaging it
piece by piece, sometimes coming up with a new idea each day.
The lyrics “I Want You” which double as Uncle Sam’s famous tagline come to life via
animation as the poster shouts at Max upon his entrance and as Taymor noted on
the DVD, he gets evaluated and stripped via rough treatment as his individual
identity is quickly taken away in favor of being part of the "army of one."
As you watch the clip which follows the photos, note the way that every element falls
into place, for example when the cubicles drop down from the ceiling in perfect
unison and everything cuts smoothly from one actor to the next in military
precision. And in its boldest moment, as the lyrics turn to “She’s So Heavy,” Taymor
produces a brilliantly unexpected twist in showing the men all carrying the heavy
Statue of Liberty upon their backs while stripped down to their boxer shorts, taking
on the country’s heavy demands on their innocent, young shoulders as if—she
reveals on the DVD-- they’re slaves in ancient Egypt.
Moving from the impending doom of Max’s future to the power of love and
compassion, the characters intervene when they realize that Prudence has locked
herself in the closet and proceed to lure her out with “Dear Prudence,” which John
Lennon had written for Mia Farrow’s reclusive, introverted sister when he “was
asked to contact her and make sure she came out more often and mixed with
people,” after she became too caught up in studying under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
(Harry, 189). While it’s usage in Universe is certainly an ironic twist given her
orientation, it’s a sweet scene that shows the love the roommates living under Sadie’
s roof have for one another, which epitomizes the spirit of peace and love of the 60’s
|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.