What do Vietnam veterans, teenagers who discovered The Beatles through the iTunes Store and pretentious music critics have in common? They all agree Across the Universe is both a terrible movie, and an insult to The Beatles’ music as a whole.
First and foremost, there is no story. Most movies (the good ones, and even the bad ones) have a plot, even if it’s simple, formulaic and predictable: conflict, resolution, conclusion. Across the Universe has none of this. To call the characters clichéd or stereotypical would be a compliment. The characters have names, but they are introduced in a way where the audience hardly understands who they are or why it should care about them.
The movie’s main character—and the first character named after a Beatles song, for apparently no reason—is Jude. We find out he is going from Liverpool, England, to the U.S. to search for his father as we are also introduced to Lucy, an American girl whose boyfriend is being drafted to fight in Vietnam. In the interim, Beatles songs are shoved into scenes for seemingly no reason, and they are often abbreviated versions. For instance, a random cheerleader who we later find out is named Prudence, sings “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” during a football/cheerleading practice. A scene included simply because her school is next to the army base that Lucy’s boyfriend is shipped to.
During the song (which is an unenthusiastic, nearly off-beat performance), the cast of cheerleaders and football players break into a slow-motion dance number. This formula of random song and dance happens throughout the film, seeming as if the directors did this because they had paid for a cast of dancers and wanted to get the biggest bang for their buck, even if it had nothing to do with the movie’s plot.
Twenty minutes in, even a fifth-grader can tell that Across the Universe is a cheap plastic deception that uses The Beatles’ songs as bait. It even insults the entirety of the 1960s, as major players and major events are reduced to caricatures. A prime example is Bono’s portrayal of an LSD guru singing a very untrippy, unfinished rendition of “I Am the Walrus.”
Jude then goes to a college campus to find his father who he thinks is a professor, but finds out is actually the school’s janitor. It is here that he meets Max, a troublemaker. Jude saves Max from a rival fraternity after Max hits a golf ball into their window, and the two instantly become friends.
Before long, we are thrown right into another song. This time it’s “With a Little Help From My Friends” and instead of a dance number, it’s a montage of Jude running around a bar with the frat brothers, singing the lyrics to each other. Some of the lines in this song are sung by random characters with no names, like an old man who croaks out the line, “Could it be anybody?” when replying to Max singing,“I need somebody to love!”
It should be noted that not a single line in this song is actually sung, but merely spoken with slight intonation. Instead of pushing the plot forward, each number concludes with a cut or time-jump. Every song in the movie is given this sort of treatment, or worse. After this, Jude and Max leave for New York as Max drops out of school to live in the budding hippy community in New York’s East Village and soon learns that he has been drafted. They get an apartment with a singer named Sadiewho is a caricature of Janis Joplin mixed with Whitney Houston.
Throughout the movie, the writers also felt it was their duty to sneak in lines from Beatles songs they couldn’t defile. For example, when Prudence the cheerleader climbs into Sadie/Jude/Max’s apartment on a fire escape, they’re strangely OK with it for no reason and say, “She came in through the bathroom window.”
The most atrocious part of the movie is the climax, when Max finally reports to duty and is sent into the psychedelic war machine of the U.S. Army training center where the same dancers as before are all wearing uniforms and masks, strip him and the other recruits down to their underwear and yet again engage in an overly theatrical dance number with guns as props.
The end of this dance number is most insulting to Vietnam War veterans, as it ends with Max and the other new soldiers in their underwear carrying a prop statue of liberty through a scaled-down version of Vietnam. The symbolism is forced so hard that instead of being serious and making a point about war, it feels like a joke that is hardly humorous.
The movie ends with Lucy hiding inside of a payphone booth while a violent protest breaks out around her as she’s second-guessing her “radical friends from New York.” Jude goesback to the UK, and Max gets wounded in Vietnam. Jude reads a headline that war protesters were killed while trying to build a bomb in their headquarters and thinks that Lucy was involved. He instantly goes back to the U.S. to search for her and finds that she is alive and well. The movie ends with them dancing naked underwaterwhile another exhausting cover of “Across the Universe” is belted out, and the shot freezes and the movie is over.
Across the Universe captures literally nothing about the 1960s, the Vietnam War or a musical/cultural revolution. A seventh-grader who read Wikipedia could have produceda more accurate and interesting movie about the decade.However the film’s biggest victim is The Beatles. They are spared no remorse for the entire film, with songs being cut short and poor performances throughout.