Movie Review: Across the Universe

By Tom Houseman

September 30, 2007

Lady Liberty can be a heavy load.

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Julie Taymor is one of the most innovative, talented directors working today, and her latest film, Across the Universe, is emblematic of Taymor's incredible vision. Across the Universe is a breathtaking collage of disparate elements of style and structure, woven together into an incredible mural. It is as if Taymor took eight different puzzles, threw them into a pile, and combined them to make a picture far more stunning than any of them would make on their own. Saying that a film is "like nothing you have ever seen before" has become a cliché, and each individual aspect of the movie will be recognizable to you, especially if you are familiar with Taymor's stage work. But the combination of each element is so stunning, that it's unlike anything being made today.

One of the most identifiable aspects of the film will be the music, as every musical number in the show uses a different Beatles song. Some of the songs are used in obvious situations, including "I Am the Walrus" sung over an acid trip, while the interpretation of others will be more surprising. By extension, every name used in the film connects to a Beatles song. Across the Universe tells the story of Jude (Jim Sturgess), a British teenager who goes to America to find his father. While there, he meets Max (Joe Anderson), a rebellious college student who takes Jude under his shoulder and introduces him to Max's sister, Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood). The three move to New York and embrace the Bohemian lifestyle they find there, living in an apartment with a sexy singer named Sadie (Dana Fuchs), and her guitarist JoJo (Martin Luther McCoy).

The plot is almost incidental to Across the Universe, as it is the visual experience that defines Taymor's film. Jude, Max, and Lucy explore themselves and the world around them as they travel across the country, fall in love, and find themselves. Max gets sent to Vietnam, and the best scene of the movie is "She's So Heavy", sung by an army of Uncle Sam's and soldiers carrying the statue of Liberty. Lucy protests the war, much to the chagrin of Jude, who feels that he is losing her. Other plotlines involve the relationship between Sadie and JoJo, which gets more rocky as record executives try to sign Sadie to a label.


Julie Taymor could never make a perfect film. Taymor's style is so wild and passionate that if any of her films ever found perfection, it would most likely be because she wasn't pushing herself far enough, and Taymor would never be accused of that sin. Some of the songs don't work well in the context of the film, notably Jude singing "It's Gonna Be Alright" to a group of war protesters. But there is so much incredible material in Across the Universe, and almost all of it works, so the experience is definitely worth it.

What is most surprising about Taymor's direction, considering how focused she is on the visual aspects of the film, is the excellent performances that she draws out of her actors, most of whom are unknowns. Jim Sturgess and Evan Rachel Wood have an incredible chemistry; both of their characters are moving in different directions, but still desperately trying to hold onto their love. Joe Anderson steals the movie as Max, rebelling against his rich parents, he is the best friend Jude could hope to have. Anderson's performance is excellent, playing Max as a smart ass who is still full of passion; he doesn't know what he wants to do, because he wants to experience everything. Anderson is responsible for some of the best moments in the film, especially when he sings "With a Little Help from My Friends" to Max, and later, when, in the hospital, he sings "Happiness is a Warm Gun." Across the Universe also features some fantastic cameos, most notably Eddie Izzard's performance of "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite."

Of all of the names of Beatles songs, Across the Universe is an apt title for Taymor's film, both in terms of its plot and its style. As the characters explore the universe they inhabit, Taymor uses every element imaginable in creating her movie, including CGI and puppets. Across the Universe might not be Taymor's most ambitious film (that title is most likely claimed by Frida), but it is her most powerful. The fascinating characters are that easy to connect with emotionally, that you never lose touch with the movie, even as it travels across the universe at light speed. Across the Universe is a perfect tribute to The Beatles and the rebellious culture of the '70s, and an incredible cinematic accomplishment that can't be missed.



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