Across the Universe

A Perfect Blend

"Who can protest and does not, is an accomplice in the act." The Talmud

Too long I have been waiting for an heir to the creative energy of Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge, but I found it in Julie Taymor's Across the Universe. Both use already established music to fit the book of classic stories about love and loss. Taymor's equals the visual virtuosity but doesn't have the emotional range of Luhrmann's. However, it uses more effectively the music to further the story, in this case the Beatles' canon to reflect the story of '60's era lyrical love and violent protest. It is more like Rent than any other recent musical, simply a perfect blend of an era with its music.

The '60's and the Beatles are inseparable as the group sang sweet songs of love that also protested adult suppression and the slaughter of thousands in an unjustifiable war in Vietnam. Jude (as in Hey) (Jim Sturgess) is a bloke from Liverpool looking for his natural father in maintenance at Princeton.

Better than his limited dad, he finds Lucy (as in diamonds) (Evan Rachel Wood), falls in love, and at one point loses her to the war protest movement, inspiring one of the most imaginative sequences with Strawberry Fields Forever and bleeding berries. Not every song works this well, but at the least they feel organic to the story, much like the songs in the recent eccentric, endearing musical Once.

The songs in Across the Universe are variously integrated into the story and introduced softly and naturally. From "Let it Be" as a lament for fallen soldiers in Nam and citizens in the '67 Detroit riots to lovely nudes slithering and smooching underwater to "Because," it all works.

Having spent some time in mid-twentieth century America, I can attest to this film's fidelity to the spirits of revolt and love. The contrast with today is that while love retains iconic status in the culture, the spirit of protest, so worthy of the current illegitimate war in Iraq, is not visible except in the hands of Maureen Dowd and Jon Stewart. The idealists who dominate this vigorous and occasionally languorous musical don't seem to go out much anymore.