Thursday, November 15, 2007

Across the Universe

A few years ago, Steve and I were in New York to celebrate Halloween. While walking around the city, we stumbled upon a Vietnam protest march being filmed for a movie. We stood back and watched for a while until we were shooed away by a underpaid production assistant. Over the years, I always wondered what that movie was, and if I'd ever get to see it. Lo and behold, that movie was "Across the Universe", the Moulin Rouge-esque musical based on art, music, and love in the 60's, with a Beatles filled soundtrack and numerous cameos. I went to see it this past Saturday night, once again in the hotbed of cultural expression, Palmyra. The movie is about a young British guy, Jude, who goes to America to find his father, falls in with a drop out from an ivy league school, falls in love with his new friends sister, Lucy, and then moves to New York City. Jude and Lucy are in a whirlwind romance, until Lucy's brother, Max, is drafted for the Vietnam war. Lucy becomes highly political and becomes part of the revolution protesting the war, while Jude escapes into his art. This difference places a crowbar between them, and their love begins to falter.
This movie is a love story, however the backdrop and decade is integral. The movie paints a beautiful world on top of an ugly one, and shows love as well as pain. The issues of the time are not hidden or glossed over, and attention is paid to the equal rights struggle of blacks, Martin Luther King's death, and the nation's response to the Vietnam war.
Visually, this movie is stunning. The film is not only narrated using Beatles songs, but travels throughout the Beatles musical career with corresponding visual styles, at times carefree, and at other times trippy and experimental; an ultimate homage.
While this movie is placed in history and plays with nostalgia, it was still incredibly fresh. Having heard most of the songs previously, viewing them on screen in the context of this film, I found them to have a completely new perspective and energy. From Jude singing an exasperated version of "Revolution" to the appalled Lucy, to a young black boy singing "Let it be" while his family marched down the streets holding his casket after he died in a riot, to Max singing "Happiness is a Warm Gun" while rotting in a hospital bed after being wounded in battle, the songs became fresh and poignant. The choreography was equally as impressive with unconventional dance steps and movements, at times fluid and dream like, and at other times highly chaotic and intense.
Another instance of fresh nostalgia was the issue of the war. The opposition to Vietnam, I felt, paralleled the Iraq war, the only difference being that in the 60's people believed in a revolution and fought for it. Several intense riot scenes were shown in the film, and viewing them brought me to tears, not because of the violence, but because of the power people felt they had and were willing to assert. Watching the masses stand up to the government, even if they didn't succeed, was both inspiring and illuminating.
This movie was incredibly thoughtful and well executed. A perfect film.

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