It’s already out there that I’m a fan of good musicals (that includes “Frozen,” too), but the one we’ll talk about today – “Across the Universe” – is a splendid example of music’s power over people, and people’s effect on music. People are peace, people are war, people are history. “Across the Universe” is a story made out of the songs of a history-making band: The Beatles. Every single second of sound in this movie has spirit.
Jude, a young man from England, travels to America to find his father, whom he’s never met. Based on the Ivy League university campus address that he has for him, Jude assumes he’s a professor. He does find his father, but discovers that he works as a janitor, leading a life not so different from the one Jude may have led in England – that of a worker. However, Jude also meets Max and his friends, and begins to get by in America – with a little help, but without a visa.
I Want You
It’s the ’60s, and the US Army is recruiting (a lot) for Vietnam. When Max drops out of college, he’s immediately called up for the draft. Uncle Sam from the recruiting poster sings the song “I Want You” at one point in this scene, but it’s not his presence that makes everything so brutally honest. It’s the process of the draft and its mechanical aspect. We watch Max and other prospective soldiers checking in, training and eventually getting shipped to Vietnam. While men are being uniformed to kill or be killed, we’re constantly reminded of the reason: someone wants it.
Strawberry Fields Forever
Max is off to war, but Jude isn’t. No one “wants” him yet, so he lives as a free man, drawing, and in love with Max’s sister Lucy. Everyone around them is upset and angry about what’s going on in Vietnam, yet not many can help to make things better. Lucy tries to engage by dedicating herself to an antiwar, revolutionist group and berates Jude for his passive stance. Their quarrel ends with a realization of their shared guilt–anger mix over the fact that Max has to fight, and they don’t. And so, “Strawberry Fields Forever” is an explosive song. As well as seeing Jude smash actual strawberries, we listen to a strong antiwar cry growing out of bottled-up tension, while what may be one of The Beatles’ most beautifully crafted songs sticks needles into our brains.
Happiness Is a Warm Gun
Max has returned home wounded, and is now recovering. In the meantime, Lucy and Jude get arrested at a peace rally, which naturally results in Jude getting sent back to England. I’m going to go ahead and say that “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” is my favorite of the bunch, and that I interpret the title like this: in order to get back to happiness, Max had to use the gun given to him, which ended up adding a little more craziness to his personality. It’s one of the most soothing songs I’ve ever heard, but at the same time a very worrying one. The way it’s executed in “Across the Universe” is, to me, art-wise, wonderful.
All You Need Is Love
Here comes the answer all of us hippies have been waiting for. Jude realizes he can’t be content in England, and decides to apply to immigrate legally. Max, who is almost as lively as before, waits to pick him up in New York, and accompanies him to a surprise (and also an illegal concert) on a rooftop. The answer to all abuses of power in the States, to the conflict in Vietnam, and to every fight among the members of humanity, is shouted out loud and clear, all together.
There are also many other moments in “Across the Universe” that deserve to be experienced, and I hope you’ll want to check them out.