I saw a film today, oh boy
Across the Universe is a bold reimagining of the trippy 1960s, writes Michael Dwyer ACROSS THE UNIVERSE Directed by Julie Taymor. Starring Jim Sturgess, Evan Rachel Wood, Joe Anderson, Dana Fuchs, Martin Luther McCoy, TV Carpio, Eddie Izzard, Bono, Joe C
THE magical musical tour that is Across the Universe takes its title from one of the 33 Beatles songs on the soundtrack, and its opening line from another (Girl), when a young Liverpool dock worker plaintively sings, “Is there anybody going to listen to my story?”
Hey, it’s Jude, played by English newcomer Jim Sturgess, whose natural screen presence matches his striking singing voice. The movie follows his experiences when he goes to the US in the late 1960s, discovers the counterculture and falls in love with a radicalised Princeton student named Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood).
Julie Taymor – who directed the groundbreaking stage production of The Lion King before turning to movies with Titus and Frida – creatively reinterprets the Beatles songs in the movie’s exhilarating fusion of cinematic and theatrical styles. Her deliriously stylised musical is photographed in gorgeous, vibrant imagery lit by Bruno Delbonnel, the painterly French cinematographer of Amèlie.
Dialogue is minimal and the visuals are eloquent as the narrative (which is almost as slender as the screenplays for A Hard Day’s Night and Help!) is advanced through the lyrics of mostly classic compositions from more than 40 years ago, and spiked with a contemporary relevance. There’s a war going on in Vietnam and, when Lucy’s brother Max (Joe Anderson) is drafted, a singing Uncle Sam poster bursts into I Want You (She’s So Heavy), which continues as newly inducted soldiers carry a Statue of Liberty replica on their shoulders through the jungle.
Jude and Lucy befriend their New York landlady, Sadie (Dana Fuchs), who performs an aptly sexy version of Why Don’tWe Do It in the Road? and engages with Detroit musician JoJo (Martin Luther McCoy) in a vigorous duet/duel on Oh! Darling. Salma Haeyk plays five dancing nurses during Happiness Is a Warm Gun. I Want to Hold Your Hand is transformed into an aching lesbian torch song when performed by a Detroit student named Prudence (TV Carpio).
As Dr Robert, Bono, in cowboy hat, blue-tinted shades and walrus moustache, punches out I Am the Walrus with panache during a blissed-out excursion into psychedelia. And in Eddie Izzard’s declamatory For the Benefit of Mr Kite, of course Henry the horse dances a waltz.
It helps that that Henry is achieved through animation, which joins puppetry, masks and choreography in Taymor’s ingeniously employed arsenal of devices. When the lyrics don’t fit, as in the case of A Day in the Life, Taymor cannot resist using this most dramatic of Beatles songs in an instrumental version that is stirring and accompanied by resonant images.
Across the Universe is a bold achievement, bursting with creative ideas, joyously romantic and peppered with witty Beatles references. The soundtrack is, of course, a knockout, affirming the enduring quality of the songs and their versatility.
The movie is suffused with the joy of performance in a heady audiovisual experience that compares favourably with Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge. Because Across the Universe is just as unconventional, it is certain to divide audiences more than most movies. You most likely will love it or hate it. All you need is love.
Day trippers: Bono belts out I Am the Walrus in this magical mystery tour