After commenter and blogger frau sally benz wrote a response to my post on Across the Universe, I started thinking some more about my response to the movie. There are a lot of things going on, both in the film and in my response to it, and I want to try to separate them out a bit to get a better look at them.
ONE: The nature of the movie itself, like the time period it covers, is chaotic and at times confusing. As frau sally benz puts it,
I always thought that was sort of the point, no? That there’s no constancy in a war-torn, civil-rights-focused, drug-experimenting, Beatles-music-loving 60s movie.
I completely agree, 100%. The director was going for a style that reflected the upheaval of the times, and by god, she achieved it. It’s actually very brilliantly done, how she can give you enough to hold on to that you don’t feel like it’s random and you don’t feel alienated from the movie, but she doesn’t ever give you quite as much as you want. She leaves out a lot of things that really should have been left out, that make the movie better for being left unaddressed (like, for example, Max’s sudden return from the war, or what, specifically, was hurting him so much.) I wanted to say this first because it’s important, and because it plays a huge role in how I adore this movie even as I criticize it. It’s brilliant!.
TWO: However, it also drives me crazy. I saw Frida as well (which frau sally benz mentions as a similar movie by the same director, Julie Taymor), and while I thought she was successful in using that same style, I am the kind of person who always wants to know why, why, why. With Frida I had enough biographical information to fill in some of the gaps, though I still felt in some ways unsatisfied, but in Across the Universe, what I saw was what I got, and it just… wasn’t enough. This is, I think, a matter of my own taste, so I will say that in a general review of the merits of the movie, the declaration of brilliance outlined in ONE is far more important than my reaction to it in TWO. But I needed to say it to separate it out from everything else.
THREE: I think Prudence suffers more than the other characters from the disjointedness, or rather, she suffers from something extra whereas the others just have the disjointedness. Because it’s true that everyone comes and goes at random, but at least when they’re there, they’re there. Sadie and Jojo’s stories are both tangential, but they do tell it themselves. When they fight on stage, we may not know why, but we see it happening and we hear what they say to each other. And while there are a lot of things Jojo doesn’t talk about (the little boy who died in the “Let It Be” sequence, for example, whose funeral Jojo attended) but we still get some idea what he’s thinking; for example, he tells Jude, “Music’s the only thing that makes sense anymore. You play it loud enough, it keeps the demons at bay.” Prudence, on the other hand, seems restricted to only a few sentences at a time. This is the most she ever says in one go:
Jude: Hello, hello! Who are you?
Jojo: And where you from, Prudence?
Jude: Oh, and, uh, before nowhere?
Prudence: Ohio. And I was living with this guy, across the street.
Jojo: Did he do that to you?
Prudence: [nodding] It was a mistake.
Sadie: [entering] Where’d she come from?
Jude: She came in through the bathroom window.
Prudence’s other lines include the “I don’t sleep with him any more!” line referenced earlier, “I want you, I want you so bad” (sung to an unaware Sadie), “Hey guys, I want you to meet someone! This is Rita!” and a few conversational bits at the end along the lines of, “Hello, Jude!”, “Where’s Lucy?”, “Where’s Jude?”, and “There they are!” That’s not a lot of speaking for a character who is introduced with a whole song to herself, plus a song sung to her by the other main characters. (Notice also that even though the characters and the movie dedicate a significant amount of time to the “Dear Prudence” coaxing-out scene, she doesn’t say a single word the whole time, not even when she leaves at the rally after.) Which is really the key thing: Prudence’s story isn’t hers. It appears in the background of other people’s stories, and we never get to hear her own opinions on it. Even in the quoted segment above, she doesn’t introduce herself to Sadie, Jude does. And since this is related to how she uses the time that she does get, I’m going to posit that this is different and separate from the general disjointedness of the narrative. So that’s THREE.
FOUR is the reason I’m taking THREE so hard to heart: as a lesbian, my life almost never makes it into film, especially the totally-without-gay-friends part of it. So when Prudence showed up, and she was me, I knew I could probably never get enough of her. I don’t think she was flighty, but… out of place? Lesbians, especially lesbians of color, especially those living with straight folks, especially in the 60s, are left without any place to “fit in,” and attempting to find a place anyway can look from the outside like a complete mess, which is what I always thought was going on with her. Especially after I mentally filled in the gaps left by the narrative, I found her a hugely sympathetic character with whom I desperately wanted to identify. Probably a straight (or male) viewer would not have quite as strong an attachment, which is why this aspect seems to hold disproportionate weight in my opinion.
FIVE: This is still a good movie. In fact, it is still a movie I adore. I just thought that needed saying.