Assignment One 2010
Critical Film and TV Perspectives
Across The Universe (Taymor, 2007) is a tribute to the great 1960s band, The Beatles. It showcases, amidst an often wandering narrative, the most important songs of the band’s career. The story follows Jude’s relationship with Lucy, set against the backdrop of the Vietnam war. When Lucy’s brother Max (also Jude’s best friend) is drafted, Max is seen to ascend the stairs of the US Army building as the first bars of the song ‘I Want You’ enter the sound-scape.
The first shot we see of this sequence is a low angle which shows, quite simply, the sheer enormity of the building Max is about to enter. The shot slowly pans down as the foreboding notes of the score play, showing an equally foreboding structure. Within the first few seconds of the sequence we are aware of the Director’s intention; we are to view this building, and the events that happen within, with fear. This is a reference to the fear that the character is about to experience, but also a reference to the fears that the audience holds for the army. The film was both set and made during times of military fear- the vietnam war and George Bush’s war against terrorism. The film is blatantly declaring its intention; it does not intend to speak well about the military, or the government. Its confidence in this portrayal shows its confidence in a positive reception. It does not expect those watching it to like the US military or government in any way.
As for the building itself, its windows barely deserve the name. Its entranceway is a vast, gaping mouth, waiting to consume every body that enters. It is clear that once you are in, there is no getting out. The building is a visual representation of all of the might of the US Army- and also its ugliness. Taymor uses this building to explicitly tell her audience that Max is not going to escape his appointment with Uncle Sam. It betrays even further her own dislike of the army. She leaves her audience with no avenues of escape- by the very formal choices she makes, she is forcing her audience to interpret the military as she wishes it to be interpreted- it is bad, bad, bad.
The lighting in the first shot, in comparison to its darker elements, is quite golden. It shows that Max, even though he is entering this inescapable fortress, still carries the hope that he will avoid the draft- he hopes to fool his examiners into thinking he is unfit to fight. However, as we see his feet ascend the stairs in the next shot, dark bars of shadow, like prison bars, cross his body; we already know that he is done for. And indeed as he walks through khaki coloured double doors two uniformed soldiers close them behind him, as if they were specifically waiting for him to arrive so they could lock him in. The final frame of the shot is him, silhouetted against what looks like a giant oesophagus- the building is swallowing him whole.
The third shot is the first in the sequence to actually show us Max’s face. As the doors close behind him we see him walking towards us, shoving a cotton ball in his mouth (in the hopes that an X-Ray will show it as a spot on his lung). His face appears calm- until the moment when the first words of the song pierce the bridge between the digetic and non-digetic and Max turns his head in horror to see the figure of Uncle Sam himself reaching out of a poster towards Max. He sings ‘I want you’, the words of the song and the US Army’s slogan. It is only then that Max seems to notice where he is- the walls glow with the khaki green of the paint, lending everything an almost sickly green light. Uncle Sam, dressed in the US colours of red, white and blue, is a menacing figure on each side of Max, reaching for him. He is the embodiment of the US government and seems almost like a druggy in the desperate way he reaches for Max and sings. Taymor uses him to show the US government’s mindless quest for war, their disregard for...
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