“All My Loving”: The Beatles’ Evolution From Romantic Love to Romantic Universalism in Julie Taymor’s Across the Universe
Julie Taymor’s fantasy/drama film Across the Universe (2007) is a musical, utilizing thirty-four Beatles’ songs all sung and performed by the actors as its sonic framework. Against the backdrop of the 1960s counterculture, this film follows a romance between the protagonists, Jude and Lucy, and the complications they face from the social turmoil brought on by the Vietnam War and the consequent, gradual dissipation of the free-love era.
The key word from the aforementioned paragraph is “romance,” a word that The Beatles explored unequivocally from the very early stages of their career, and the word I will be using as the scope of my paper. As The Beatles evolved from teenybopper sensation to rock n’ roll band, the message embedded within their music did too. At the beginning of their career, their music reflected innocence and romantic love in the context of an interpersonal relationship. However, during the latter half of the 1960s, The Beatles started to confront their own thoughts and offered a solution to the widespread problems that were dividing the human race. This solution—a theoretical notion of “love” on a universal scale, a harmonious love interwoven between every soul that constitutes the human race, a love that, for the sake of avoiding such a perpetually hyperbolized word and to recognize the grandiose scale at which The Beatles desired to see this love flourish—I will call “romantic universalism.” Many critics have studied and justified The Beatles’ open advocacy of romantic universalism through their lyrics, interviews, their personal lives, and even their implementation of multi-track recording. Most importantly, in regards to the fact that this is a film-focused essay, critics have explored romantic universalism in the following Beatles’ films: Magical Mystery Tour (1967), and Yellow Submarine (1968). From the vantage point of Beatles scholars, the Beatles transition from romantic love to romantic universalism follows a clear path and is undoubtedly a primary theme throughout The Beatles’ work.
This essay explores The Beatles’ evolution from romantic love to romantic universalism in the context of the film Across the Universe. Though critics have provided an ample amount of evidence that supports this evolution in The Beatles’ music and films, they have not yet studied how accurately this evolution is presented in Across the Universe; a film that has been overlooked as an important peripheral element of The Beatles cannon, and that has been overlooked in the scholarship as well. Moreover, Beatles film scholars have not yet tackled how the previously mentioned films are visually and, thusly, intentionally echoed in Across the Universe. Closer attention to the film’s visual presentation of The Beatles’ songs and, subsequently, its undeniable homage to the aforesaid Beatles films all reveal that Across the Universe exudes The Beatles’ turn from romantic love to their artistic activism of romantic universalism. However, before exploring Across the Universe more fully, it helps to have a better understanding of the Beatles’ aforesaid evolution in their music and films.
In regards to the CVC portion of my paper, I utilized Dr. Campbell’s scholarly article, “All You Need Is Love’: From Romance to Romanticism: The Beatles, Romantic Love, and Cultural Change.” In this article, Campbell explores what he refers to as the “romantic love complex” in popular culture and song. Campbell argues that, while it is important in interpersonal relationships, the romantic love complex can also serve as a momentous catalyst for cultural change. Campbell supports his claim through the scrutiny of the lyrics of The Beatles’ songs. After introducing this source, I used three different critics and their interpretations of The Beatles’ films, Magical Mystery Tour and Yellow Submarine, both of which share similarities to Across the Universe.
In respect to the entirety of Across the Universe, romantic universalism is undeniably most vivid and comprehensible in the last scene. However, there are indeed more scenes from Across the Universe that echo The Beatles’ transition from romantic love to romantic universalism through visual depictions of Beatles’ lyrics, historical accuracy and homage, and, in regards to the film’s mise en scène, shots from A Hard Day’s Night, Magical Mystery Tour, and Yellow Submarine are tastefully recreated. In fact, to fully support my argument, Across the Universe must be investigated from start to finish because, thematically, the film chronologically transitions from romantic love to romantic universalism through the vehicles of Jude and Lucy. If I were to continue analyzing this film, I would focus more on how shots from the aforementioned Beatles’ films are recreated and, instead of plainly mimicking the shots visually, Across the Universe takes each shot a step further and enhances the original or explores fresh thematic implications. For example, there are scholars who have explored A Hard Day’s Night’s homoerotic undertones. In this film there is a medium wide shot where all of The Beatles are playing around on a sports field and in Across the Universe, there is a sequence of Prudence singing “I Want to Hold Your Hand” amidst a football practice and it is shot almost identical to the one from A Hard Day’s Night. Later in the film, Prudence reveals she is attracted to women and this revelation correlates with the critique of homoeroticism in A Hard Day’s Night. In regards to furthering the theoretical scope of this essay, I would aim to incorporate British pop art and explore how Across the Universe, in scenes like the one where Max gets drafted and there are oversized soldiers and a lively Uncle Sam, implements the aforesaid Beatles’ films attention to pop art and see if there is any sort of continuity. I chose to analyze Across the Universe not solely due to the fact that it is one of my favorite films, but the fact that there have not been any scholarly articles published on this film and how justly it highlights The Beatles influential theoretical beliefs. Being that The Beatles are arguably the most prominent rock ’n’ roll band in history, any form of art that is utilizing The Beatles as its framework must be analyzed for its merit, not just film reviews.