Murders, bombs, guns, knives, rape, serial killers, beheadings, the world in danger, and images of war have relentlessly attacked adult audiences from the silver screen. We're a nation overstressed, worried, and tortured -- and judging by box office numbers, we crave anxiety at the movies too. Being entertained at the theatre by the same things we abhor on the nightly news is counter-intuitive. Brutal film feeds our genetic coding to aggressive behavior.
Film production and widespread distribution are linked to the formulaic fare that routinely attracts young men and women into the cinemaplex. Start with a handsome hero and lots of bang-bang shoot 'em up, add a girl with a gun, and you've got yourself a film guaranteed to win, place, or show on the opening weekend tally. These Hollywood films aren't feeding humanity -- they're fertilizing aggression, stress, and anger.
Big green monsters, rats in a restaurant, and wizards of imagination led the box office and Americans down the rosiest path this summer. Children learn lessons in the sub-text of these matinees-movies, just like adults learn from the examples in film, television, music, and art in which we surround ourselves.
But all is not lost. While The Shooter was aiming at The Brave One and the 300 were trying to take over The Kingdom, director Julie Taymor was finishing her cinematic antidote to lowest common denominator aggression entitled Across the Universe.
The film opens as Jude sings out from a lonely, chilly beach beckoning us to take a ride with him across the turbulent 'sixties. At the film's core are thirty-three Beatles' songs reinterpreted in a series of MTV-style vignettes that propel the simple story forward. Every performance is from the heart of the idealistic counter-culture. Love, rebellion, and embellished Levis fight for peace in Vietnam, social change in America, and the answers to questions that we still ask everyday.
The film is a visual track for the music. Even though the story is Jude's, the feeling it evokes is ours as we soar down our highway of life. It's a top-down-wind-through-your-hair rebirth of the rebellious spirited hippie counter culture -- the only thing missing is our own '66 Mustang.
The film's most imagined scene, sung to "Hey Jude," is an amalgam of the race riots, the Vietnam War, and the sorrow of violence. This vignette on the big screen is worth of the cost of admission, the ten buck bag of popcorn and the five dollar soda.
The voice of the film is the music of The Beatles, but the film reminds us that the adrenaline that invigorated the rebellious call for peace in Vietnam was the draft. Being forced to wield a weapon for peace and freedom woke up opinion, sparking monumental protests. Monikers like "Anti-War Radicals" only fueled the sixties peace movement as soon citizens realized that war is more radical than peace. Americans won't be motivated to fight government aggressively for an end to this war until we bring back the draft and the opposition to it. You can't bring the troops home until you bring the war home. Bush's deadly war has cost America billions and it shows no sign of letting up. None. Let them come for America's children and watch this insanity end.
In the film, sixties dinner conversations are remarkably reminiscent of real words that bounced across kitchen tables across America. Rambunctious banter about long hair, bell bottoms, and the insane politics of war weave in and out of talk about career, college, or protest plans, showing the quintessential middle class America of forty years ago.
Tom Wolfe's hippie-drenched The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test rears its psychedelic head when Bono plays a Neal Cassady-esque figure. This seems thrown in for those who really experienced the more acidic side of the decade, and it was good enough for me too.
As America digs itself deeper and deeper into the dark place that is the Iraq war, the 'sixties seem further away than ever. Across the Universe encapsulates the time, throwing it back to today's youth, enticing them to hit the pavement for peace, the campaign trail for concrete answers, and the polling booths for revolution. It's not mom and dad's American Graffiti. Rather, the film is a blast from the past that's a cleverly disguised call for change now.
The sixties were progressive times, perhaps America's best. They produced fertile ground for progressive dialog across the nation. All in the Family was the exclamation point at the end of the sentence that said we were evolving. America was a nation motivated by peace, equal rights for all, and the separation of church and state. It's hard to believe that thirty-five years later, those ideals seem lost.
In the 1960s young people called attention to pollution, sexual and racial inequality, and even overpopulation. Their actions helped stop the never-ending mess that was Vietnam. Today, people who refuse to give in to video games, television and divisive dumbing-down can not rise up to change mankind's war-torn path. The 'sixties didn't solve the problems; they only called attention to them. Thankfully Across the Universe is bringing the Beatles back to the current generation and maybe, just maybe, even without the draft, they'll notice the peace movement too.