Across the Universe takes you on a musical journey through the 1960s, the era of free love and living with no rules, through the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War. All of these events are characterized by a series of Beatles songs, sung by characters with Beatles-inspired names. The story is timeless and could just as easily have been set in modern times. It is so relevant it is scary. Despite the similarities to the modern world, I do not sense any particular agenda or political statement. Perhaps that is just me being naive and not wanting to see it, but I don't think so. It is so much more about the characters and the journey that they take as they navigate the choppy waters of the real world as they grow and mature as individuals.
The story follows Jude (Jim Sturgess), a Liverpool native who works in the shipyards. He leaves his job and travels to America in search of his father, who left before he was born. His journey leads him to a friendship with Max (Joe Anderson), a Princeton student. Max drops out and the two travel to New York City, where they share a pad with the Janis Joplin-like Sadie (Dana Fuchs), the Jimi Hendrix-esque JoJo (Martin Luther McKoy), and runaway cheerleader Prudence (T.V. Carpio). Shortly thereafter, they are joined by Lucy, Max's sister and Jude's love interest, as she looks for some excitement before heading off to college.
We follow them as they spread their wings and experiment in art and music, only to have their world interrupted by Vietnam. Max is drafted and sent off to war, while the rest of them go on a journey with Dr. Robert (Bono), receive advice from Mr. Kite (Eddie Izzard), all while Max struggles with his wartime duty.
The story is not deep, but it is so well told. From the moment Jude sings part of "Girl" to open the film, I was swept up for the ride. Director Julie Taymor, probably best known for directing the Broadway version of The Lion King, takes the music of The Beatles, psychedelic visuals, and a strong narrative and marries them in a unique visual and aural experience. I have never seen Taymor's work before, but after Across the Universe I am going to have to make a point of it. This is a film that takes chances; that goes out on a limb in the attempt to create a new experience.