“Across the Universe” is both a film and a time capsule, allowing our own jaded generation to experience what it felt like to live through the idealistic 1960s. The film – a musical in which people belt out songs by the Beatles at any given moment – perfectly epitomizes this sweet naiveté of the era.
Director Julie Taymor, whose résumé includes “The Lion King” on Broadway, mostly tells her story with dramatized the Beatles’ covers, psychedelic imagery and complex choreography. With its frequent animation sequences and drug references, “Across the Universe” has the potential to make the viewer experience the same euphoric highs as the drug-addled characters.
Forget about the film’s predictable love story and campy dialogue. It is the clever use of music and imagery in this film that captures the spirit of the peace and love movement and ultimately, the audience’s attention.
The story begins in a more innocent time; the characters sing poppy hits by the Beatles like “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and the peace movement is still, well, peaceful. After Liverpool native Jude (Jim Sturgess) immigrates to America, he parties hard with college dropout Max (Joe Anderson) and falls for Max’s sister, Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood).
The trio moves to New York City and befriends a band of bohemian hippies who represent famous ’60s icons. Sadie (Dana Fuchs) is the hoarse-voiced singer who performs Janis Joplin-inspired versions of classic songs by the Beatles, while her guitarist, Jojo (Martin Luther), grooves and dresses like Jimi Hendrix. But the war threatens to tear the gang apart, and the actors make convincing turns from happy and stoned flower children to cynical and depressed young adults.
As the choreography shifts from traditional dance moves to organized sequences of police brutality and violence on the battlefields of Vietnam, the film truly hits its stride – taking on serious issues with deeply affecting music and dance sequences. The most powerful of these is Uncle Sam’s creepy rendition of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” as Max enters the nightmarish United States Army recruitment office.
While “Across the Universe” gives a grim history lesson, it is more of a simple celebration of the creativity that blossomed in the ’60s than anything else, and the film’s messages about love and peace are more hopeful than cynical. Ultimately, this is a film that can be enjoyed on many different mental and cinematic levels. But no matter what, it is sure to be an enjoyable experience and a major trip – through time and possibly more.