‘Universe’ is original hit with Beatles, Bono, and strawberries

Emily Triebwasser

By Emily Triebwasser

Entertainment Editor

Sitting in a movie theater with mouth agape, fingertips clamped tightly around the tattered armrest and a single tear rolling down your face is usually a good implication of one thing: You just saw one hell of a film. It doesn’t hurt that you have a cleverly redone Beatles tune resonating in your memory.

Acclaimed director Julie Taymor has struck gold with “Across the Universe.” It is quite possibly the most original, risky and touching film in years. In a single statement, “Universe” is a musical set to mostly Beatles songs, taking place in the rocky American 1960s.

But there is more to it than meets the eye. Subtle pop-culture references, celebrity cameos and intense symbolism step this film up from original and entertaining to a bona fide Oscar contender.

Cleverly named Jude (Jim Sturgess) opens the film by choosing to leave his life in Liverpool (obvious Beatles reference) to find his father in America at Princeton University. Disappointed to find his father is a custodial worker, he stumbles upon Max (Joe Anderson), the ne’er-do-well student who takes Jude under his wing.

Once Max decides to drop out of college, he and Jude move to New York City together, bunking in an apartment with a colorful assortment of tenants. Shortly thereafter, Max’s sister Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood) joins them and subsequently falls in love with Jude.

The group has some wild times and enjoys the spontaneous freedom of the ’60s, but the good times eventually end. Max gets drafted to fight in Vietnam, and Lucy gets wrapped up in the anti-war culture of the time.

The plot then spins in different directions until the emotionally charged conclusion that leaves viewers simultaneously satisfied and screaming for an encore.

If you have an unexplainable phobia of the musical film, don’t judge “Universe” right away. Yes, it is a musical, but it is a completely original addition to the genre. The songs are brilliantly integrated into a plot that doesn’t require melodic support; they merely emphasize both the emotional tones of the scenes and the culture of the time period. What better group to create a musical scrapbook of the 1960s than the Beatles?

There are certain songs that hit especially hard. The happy-go-lucky version of “A Little Help from My Friends” depicts the moment that Max and Jude first bond and become the best of friends by drinking together. It’s a moment that seems like “Animal House” as a musical.

On the contrary, the Detroit riots are the setting for arguably the most sincere version of “Let It Be” ever recorded. It can draw tears out of someone with a heart of stone. Finally, “I Want You” wins the award for most original choreography, as Max heads into the draft office, only to find Uncle Sam and hundreds of live G.I. Joe action figures turning him into a soldier.

I could continue to sing the praises (literally) of this film for 10 pages. “Across the Universe” not only scores as a moving story, but it also succeeds in covering Beatles songs with originality and emotion, which is not an easy feat. Keep your eyes peeled for celebrities in cameo roles, including Bono, Salma Hayek and Eddie Izzard.

See this movie with everyone you know; otherwise you will not stop raving about it to those unfortunate enough not to have gone with you. Enjoy what will surely be the most exhilarating two hours of your life, and just “let it be.”