Ode to Beatles and ’60s Revolution Scores Across the Board

Olga Ramaz

To call director Julie Taymor’s “Across the Universe” beautiful would be a disservice to the magical grandeur she created, frame by frame, with a little help from an assortment of astounding visual affects, casting and most importantly, 33 Beatles classics.

From beginning to end, the film offers both a visual and audio feast.

In the opening scene we are introduced to Jude (Jim Sturgess), sitting alone on the beach. Suddenly, when the camera pans in for a close-up, he breaks into the first lines of “Girl,” which is jarringly interrupted by a series of chaotic images, accompanied by “Helter Skelter,” serving as an allusion to what’s to come.

“Across the Universe” tells the story of two young lovers, Jude and Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood) whose love blossoms during the tumultuous ’60s. The characters are faced with the realities of a sexual revolution, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll and the Vietnam War.

The two meet after Jude ditches his job as a dock worker in Liverpool and travels to the United States to search for his long-lost father. While searching for his father, who turns out to be a janitor at Princeton instead of the respected professor Jude thought him to be, the lad meets Max, Lucy’s older brother (Joe Anderson), a loud-mouthed smart ass who eventually drops out of college.

After a pleasant Thanksgiving dinner with Max’s family, the two head to New York to try their luck. The two are later joined by Lucy, who seeks comfort after the loss of her boyfriend who died in Vietnam. Lucy and Jude take a liking to one another and eventually embark on a romantic voyage.

As the plot unfolds, we are introduced to a series of characters, all of whom are different yet lovable in their own rights.

Sadie (Dana Fuchs), aside from being the landlady of the apartment house Jude, Lucy and Max live in, is also an aspiring rock singer. Her raspy Janis Joplin-like voice exudes a sultry sound that carries out, impeccably, songs like “Helter Skelter,” which becomes the anthem of a scene depicting an anti-war rally that quickly evolves into a full-blown riot. Even Sadie’s garb and palate for Jack Daniels are a throwback to Joplin, one of the many notable rock icons and casualties of the ’60s.

Jo-Jo (Martin Luther McCoy) evokes the great Jimi Hendrix. Jo-Jo finds himself traveling to New York from his hometown of Detroit after his little brother dies during a riot. With only a duffle bag and his guitar slung across his shoulder, he meets up with Sadie, who is auditioning guitarists to fill a vacant spot in her band. Soon the two find themselves involved in an on-off relationship that is eventually rekindled one last time.

Prudence (T.V. Carpio), a closet lesbian and a former high school cheerleader, who makes her way from a suburb in Ohio to New York, introduces herself to the gang after she comes through the bathroom window of Sadie’s run down apartment. However, this is not the first time we see her. We are first introduced to Prudence during a football scrimmage, where instead of cheering the team on, she sits on the bleachers and longingly stares at a blonde cheerleader while angelically singing “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”

To make ends meet, Jude takes up art, Lucy works as a waitress and Max becomes a cabbie. But reality soon slaps them in the face when Max is drafted to Vietnam.
In every scene, the effects keep getting better and better.

When Max presents himself at the government office, he is welcomed by an animated Uncle Sam who glares and points at Max, spitting out “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).”

What follows is a well- choreographed number, full of dancing, animated Uncle Sam’s, recruits stripped down to their skivvies, while being weighed, measured and going over drills. The new recruits soon find themselves storming the jungles of Vietnam, crushing palm trees while carrying the Statue of Liberty.

“Strawberry Fields Forever” is the segue way to a beautifully rendered scene where Jude finds himself struggling to create a logo for Sadie’s recording label. After giving up on the idea of using a green apple as a logo, he then turns to strawberries.

Jude pins strawberries to a white board and as their crimson juice drips to the floor, the scene reaches a climax. Strawberries turn to hand grenades, dropping on soldiers in Vietnam.

The brilliant shades of red Jude splashes on to a canvas become spots of blood trickling down the faces of Army men. While Jude rejoices having succeeded in his task, images of combat play on.

The scene set to “Because” depicts the gang as they frolic underwater in a surreal sequence. At one point, Jude and Lucy hold and embrace, reminiscent of John and Yoko’s embrace as seen on the cover of “Rolling Stone Magazine,” circa 1980.

Rounding off the breathtaking visual effects and music are the surprising star cameos.

Joe Cocker, playing the role of a New York transient, chimes in with Jo-Jo for “Come Together,” Salma Hayek plays nurse to Max’s character after her returns from Vietnam in the song “Happiness is a Warm Gun” and U2’s Bono takes the role of Dr. Robert, a shaman who takes the gang on a psychedelic trip for the song “I Am the Walrus.”

“Across the Universe” is a quality film consisting of great visual effects, perfectly executed choreography and acting and above all, great music. Even if you are not a fan of the Beatles, you owe it to yourself to check this film out.

Rating **** out of 4

“Across the Universe” is playing in select theaters only. This film is rated PG-13 and contains scenes with mild violence, some strong language, sex, drug use and nudity. Parents are strongly cautioned.