I’ll admit it: I was one of those snobby high-schoolers who deeply “identified” with the 1960s. I wore my love for the Beatles like a badge of superiority, and frequently asked people what their favorite album was so I could judge them by their response. I made my family take a detour to Woodstock during a road trip so I could commune with spiritual residue of the flower children.
So of course, when Across the Universe came out 10 years ago, I was one of the fifteen very eager people in the theater on a Saturday afternoon in New Jersey.
The movie wasn't as profound as I was hoping — like I said, I was a snob. I rolled my eyes at some of the film’s reductive depictions of the ‘60s, and its love story between Jude (Jim Sturgess) and Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood) that seemed too fast to be true. Plus, the idea of Jude’s abandoned girlfriend in Liverpool, sulking around and missing him, haunted me the whole movie.
Re-watching the film for its tenth anniversary; however, I found that everything that irked me back then – doe-eyed sentimentality, history told through a montage, strings of almost cringe-inducing earnestness — is actually a delight. All I could think was: Life, and history, are rosier when sung through the filter of Beatles songs. Have I gotten older, or have times gotten worse?
Take the movie’s depiction of New York’s midtown in the late ‘60s. When I saw this scene, I had had just finished watching the pilot episode of HBO’s new drama The Deuce. The Deuce takes place in Times Square in the early ‘70s, but it’s pretty much the same mix of characters we see in this scene in Across the Universe: outcasts, pimps, and sex workers.
The Deuce’s depiction of the era is spot on. “Every poster and sign in this pilot is accurate,” director Michelle MacLaren assured The Daily Beast. Not so with Across the Universe, where the characters in a flamboyant and friendly New York are choreographed to align with the song “Come Together.”
Jojo (Martin Luther McCoy) is a quintessential newcomer, arriving to New York by way of a bus — the same thing happens in The Deuce, by the way. As Jojo descends a Port Authority escalator, guitar in hand, a homeless man sings the song’s opening lines. From there, the melody leaps to a group of prostitutes, then to my personal favorite — a nonchalant pimp in a lime-green suit.
Appropriately, the entire city of New York comes together in the “Come Together” sequence. Jojo weaves through throngs of New York’s outcasts, hippies, and businesspeople, who walk through Midtown in robotic uniformity (with a small tap dance break). Eventually, Jojo finds his people.
Is this what finding friends in New York in the late ‘60s was like? No, of course not. If you want real history, watch The Deuce.
And is what we see depicted in Across the Universe really what the sex, drugs, and rock and roll culture of the ‘60s was like? I doubt it. Certainly Bono wasn’t Doctor Robert, a traveling drug guru who offered LSD-laced punch at book readings, in the real ‘60s. But this is fun, and sometimes, I decided, as I was pulled deeper into the Julie Taymor fever dream, fun is all right.
“Fun” is also all right when it comes to the romance that holds the entire film together. We’re supposed to believe that itinerant, yearning soul Jude crosses the ocean to search for his father, and finds love at first sight in a bowling alley instead. We’re supposed to believe that Lucy, a rising college freshman whose boyfriend just died in Vietnam, is ready to fall in love with a drifter. I let Across the Universe win; I chose to believe that love can be found in a bowling alley.
Ultimately, the movie’s magic isn’t found in historical accuracy, or the believability of its romance. It’s found in the music. Think of Across the Universe as a visual album devoted to the most iconic music ever — music that has woven together three generations and counting. If Across the Universe achieves a quality of timelessness, it’s because the music, written by the Beatles 60 years ago, has too.
Logically, I know that love isn't all you need. For the hour and a half I spent rewatching Across the Universe, though, I thought it was.
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