Love and friendship come under the microscope, set to a Beatles soundtrack
A musical fantasy, Across the Universe is a magical mix of songs by The Beatles and a love story between a British working-class young man and a middle-class American girl in 1960s New York City. And, like a Beatles song, it will grab you the moment it starts.
The film opens on a sad-eyed young man (Jim Sturgess) sitting alone on a beach, staring into the camera and singing the song Girl, a tune imbued with heartbreaking universality. This is a scene that can melt your heart.
And the movie, directed and co-written by Julie Taymor, just gets better and better, telling a story that defines not only love, but also a generation of young people struggling to find their voice in face of war and conformity.
Like most of the major players in the movie, the young man is named after a Beatles song. Jude is a British dockworker who travels to the US in search of the father he never met.
There he comes across Max (Joe Anderson), a wayward student from a privileged family, and his charming younger sister Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood).
Together, the three young people travel to New York City, which is like a pot about to boil over as anti-war sentiments and rock 'n' roll occupied the minds of rebellious youth.
They share an apartment in Greenwich Village with a group of musicians, including landlady-cum-singer Sadie (Dana Fuchs), her black guitarist boyfriend Jojo (Martin Luther McCoy) who arrives from Detroit after the racially-charged riots, and Prudence (T.V. Carpio, the daughter of Asian singing star Teresa), a young hitchhiker from Ohio.
Life is heaven in the beginning. Jude and Lucy start to fall in love and Max leads a rebellious and carefree life as a young bohemian.
But as Lucy becomes increasingly involved in the radical anti-war movement after her childhood sweetheart is killed in the Vietnam War and Max gets drafted, the utopia starts to fall apart.
In the hands of a lesser director, the movie could have easily degenerated into a string of music videos strung together by a thin love story.
But Taymor, best known for her work on Broadway, turns the movie into a beautiful, human illustration of the Beatles' songs by using them for clear dramatic purposes.
For instance, the scene in which a frightened black child sings Let It Be during the bloody 12th Street Riot in Detroit is a poignant moment loaded with political messages and humanist values.
Other highlights include the underwater scenes where the floating lovers embrace each other in slow and balladic motion, conveying a tranquil and dreamy mood. It's a fine and poetic moment that illustrates what it feels like to be in love.
Across the Universe is like a great Beatles song: melodic, breathtaking and, above all, possibly timeless. It's impossible not to succumb to the magic.
Across the Universe is now showing