All about the girl who came to stay?
She's the kind of girl you want so much, it makes you sorry
Still, you don't regret a single day..."
Jude Feeney is an aimless young man from Liverpool who heads to America in hopes of finding his absent father, who knew his mother in World War II but had never been told that Jude was born. When the man proves to be something of a disappointment, he falls in with Ivy League frat boy Max (well's Silver Hammer) Carrigan (Joe Anderson). The two move to New York with Max's sister Lucy. Jude finds himself falling for Lucy, who willingly reciprocates.
Also along for the ride are (Sexy) Sadie (Dana Fuchs), their landlady who is also an aspiring singer, Jojo ("was a man who thought he was a loner"note ) (Martin Luther McCoy), a talented guitarist who makes his way to New York after the events of the 1967 Detroit riot, and (Dear) Prudence (TV Carpio), a closeted lesbian who crashes into their shared apartment after running away from an abusive boyfriend. Everyone falls in love and for the hippie scene present there. But the real world intrudes as The Vietnam War wages on, and the political involvement (willing and otherwise) of various members of Jude's True Companions becomes more and more perilous. It threatens to pull Jude and Lucy apart — she's involved, and he doesn't approve of that part of the movement she's in...
Compare Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, another film which wraps a plotline around Beatles songs.
Across The Universe contains examples of:
- The '60s: Set in the 1960s, with the Detroit riots and the anti-Vietnam War rallies being plot points.
- Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: Jude promises his girlfriend in Liverpool that he'll write after sailing off to the US. He stops writing soon, after meeting American Lucy and dating her. After this, his girlfriend moves on as well, marrying another man and getting pregnant.
- Alice Allusion: After the gang gets ditched by Doctor Robert, en route to Mr. Kite's circus.Jude: Where are you taking me?
Lucy: Down the rabbit-hole!
- Artist and the Band: Sadie leads a band called Sadie and the Po Boys.
- The Beard: Prudence, who is established as a lesbian, has a boyfriend however in New York City, whom she then leaves as he's gotten abusive before accepting her own sexuality with help from friends.
- Big Applesauce: The bulk of the film is set in and around the hustle and bustle of New York.
- Black Comedy Rape: When the gang is trying to help Max find a way to get out of his conscription, Prudence suggests "Tell them you're a pedophile, and you can't wait to rape and pillage all the little girls who look like me!"
- BSoD Song: "Happiness is a Warm Gun", "A Day in the Life", "Strawberry Fields Forever" qualify, as well as "Girl" which, despite being the opening number, chronologically comes after the others. All play when Max and Jude are going through quite terrible times in their lives.
- Buffy Speak: Mr. Kite in his musical number.Mr. Kite: The Hendersons will all be there/Late of Pablo Fanque's fair/ Have you seen it? It's great: they've got stuff!
- The Cameo: In order: Joe Cocker as a hobo, a pimp, and an aging hippy singing "Come Together", Bono as a wacky Ken Kesey Expy singing "I Am the Walrus" (and ACTING), Eddie Izzard as Mr. Kite, and Salma Hayek times 6 as a sexy nurse.
- Closed Door Rapport: Prudence, who had a crush on Sadie, ends up locking herself in a closet after she realizes that Sadie and Jojo are now a couple. So the gang (minus Sadie and Jojo, incidentally, who have a thing they have to get to) sing "Dear Prudence" to try and convince her to come out of the closet, get out of her funk, and see the world for how wonderful it is.
- Coming-Out Story: This is Prudence's arc. She struggles with her sexuality over the course of the film, first pining for another girl on her cheerleading team and then runs off to New York City, moving in with the main cast. She then pines for Sadie too, who's with Jo Jo, locking herself in the closet literally before the others get her to come out. Though she never explicitly says anything, Prudence is later with a girl named Rita.
- Conscription: Max faces being drafted, and discusses what to do with the others. He doesn't want to be imprisoned for refusing it, or flee for Canada. In the end he tries to fake an illness for a medical exemption, which doesn't work. He goes off to Vietnam, gets wounded, and then returns home.
- The Cover Changes the Meaning:
- The Beatles wrote "I Want To Hold Your Hand" as a straightforward love song. Here, it's a closet lesbian pining for her unrequited crush. "Oh please, say to me... You'll let me be your man."
- One particularly egregious example of this is "Girl"; though it only uses one verse, the orchestration and out-of-context lyrics changes the song from a lament about a man whose girlfriend's presence is putting serious strain on his social life with his buddies, to a simple ballad about a lost love.
- Another great example is "I Want You (She's So Heavy)", a song about lust and how sexy (heavy) the subject is. In the film the song is set to Uncle Sam's pointing finger on the Army recruiting poster, "I Want You!" during Max's draft board examination. And when the "She's so heavy!" chorus begins, it cuts to a shot of the Army recruits being forced to carry the Statue of Liberty on their shoulders while marching over a miniature landscape of war-torn Vietnam.
- Creator Provincialism: Despite the entire film being about a British band from Liverpool a huge chunk of the script takes place in the USA and the characters are largely American.
- Crowd Song: The latter half of "Hey Jude" is sung by a chorus of Brits.
- Death Notification: For the mother of Lucy's boyfriend, who's notified that her son has died right after Lucy sings about how they'll be together soon.
- Death of a Child: Jo-Jo's little brother was killed in the Detroit riot, with him introduced attending his funeral along with their family.
- Disappeared Dad: Jude's father was absent all of his life until he meets him when he's grown up. He had a relationship with Jude's mother during the war, but had to ship out as a soldier, while unaware she'd gotten pregnant. Before meeting Jude, he didn't know he'd even existed.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: Max being shot up with morphine at the end of the Happiness is a Warm Gun sequence manages to be this for both drugs and sex at the same time.
- Domestic Abuse: The guy Prudence was living with when she first got to the village was physically abusing her.
- Fictional Counterpart: The Students for a Democratic Republic (or SDR) is an obvious stand-in for the real Students for a Democratic Society, including some factions turning violent by the late 60's. They broke apart during their 1969 Convention, as one group explicitly became urban guerrillas/terrorists the Weathermen or Weather Underground, with Paco and his friends blowing themselves up accidentally being what one cell did.
- Five-Second Foreshadowing: In "A Little Help from My Friends" Jude says this and then sees Lucy later on.College buddies: Would you believe in a love at first sight?
Jude: [sarcastically] Yes I'm certain that it happens all the time.
- Flexibility Equals Sex Ability: After the gang is reunited with Prudence at Mr. Kite's circus, she cheerfully introduces her new girlfriend Rita, then suggestively notes that she's a contortionist.
- Free-Handed Performer: Sadie and the Po Boys is led by Sadie who only provides lead vocals. After the band temporarily splits, Sadie still sings while being backed by a band.
- Gaydar: Lucy quickly observes Prudence's longing looks for Sadie and realizes she's a lesbian (Jude, on the other hand, is oblivious to it).
- Gayngst: Prudence spends a lot of time angsting about not being able to be with her crush of the moment. It doesn't help that she has a habit of falling for straight women who are already in relationships.
- Glamorous Wartime Singer: Sadie, particularly during "Helter Skelter," with the scene switching from the performance to Max fighting in Vietnam. It's easy to get chills when her fiery red hair fades into explosions from the battle.
- Gospel Revival Number: The Gospel cover of "Let It Be" is one of the best covers in the film. It's sung by a black church choir when Jo Jo's little brother has his funeral.
- Grief Song: "Girl" is retooled into a song about a lost love. See The Cover Changes the Meaning above.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: Max and Jude are as close as brothers.
- Hoist by Their Own Petard: The anti-war activists Lucy joined turn to violence out of anger over the continuing war and peaceful protests being quashed, building pipe bombs (though she doesn't join in). Later, it's revealed that they blew themselves up accidentally (probably based on some Weathermen doing this).
- Hospital Hottie: The Bang, Bang, Shoot, Shoot Nurse played by Salma Hayek is suitably sultry.
- Incoming Ham: Bono gets an entire monologue that seems to be made up of this, including the beginning of I Am The Walrus.
- Incompatible Orientation: Prudence falls for both the cheerleader chick and Sadie during the course of the film. Both are straight, and seeing someone else. The unrequited nature of her love for Sadie causes her to suffer a Heroic BSoD until her friends sing to her about how beautiful she is and help (literally) coax her out of the closet.
- Interscene Diegetic: Par for the course, being a musical. "All My Loving", "It Won't Be Long", "A Day in the Life", the list goes on.
- Intimate Artistry: Jude sketches Lucy while she's lying naked with a blanket around her aside from her right breast. She comments about the last part pointedly on how he drew her nipple in reviewing it afterward.
- Ivy League for Everyone: Max is introduced as a Princeton student.
- Jukebox Musical: The plot is conveyed through Beatles songs.
- Jump Scare: When Lucy is nearly shot. The gunshot is heard, then the bullet hitting the glass of the booth she's in.
- La Résistance: Lucy joins a group of anti-war activists following Max's conscription. They start turning to violence in rage after the NYPD violently crushes their largest protests.
- Large Ham:
- Longing Look: Prudence is introduced when gazing at another girl with longing while she sings "I Want To Hold Your Hand". Later she's doing the same thing with Sadie and singing "I Want You".
- Luke, You Are My Father: Jude finds his long-absent father working as a janitor at Princeton, telling him he's his son. Before hearing this, his father had no idea he'd even existed.
- Match Cut:
- During "Strawberry Fields Forever," between the strawberries Jude is painting and throwing, and the bombs the US Army is dropping.
- Also during "Helter Skelter", which matches Sadie's wild red hair with explosions from a Vietnam battle.
- Mind Screw: The last scene of the climactic "Across the Universe"/"Helter Skelter" sequence, where we suddenly cut to a group of nude, masked women who have never been seen before, who then fall into a pool of water as if they've been killed. Its exact meaning has been debated since the film premiered. It's also decidedly unclear how much of the Mr. Kite sequence is actually happening, and how much is the characters hallucinating while high.
- Ms. Fanservice: Sexy Sadie, naturally, who's fond of strutting around the apartments she owns, in front of her tenants, in nothing but her bathrobe. Max and Jude mutually agree that living in her run-down building is Worth It if they get to be around her.
- Mushroom Samba: "I Want You (She's So Heavy)," "Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite," and "I Am The Walrus" are perfect examples of why you should never watch this movie on acid.
- No Historical Figures Were Harmed:
- Meaningful Funeral: Jojo's brother is killed in the Detroit Riots (set to "Let it Be").
- Obfuscating Disability: Max tries to fake an illness that would exempt him from the draft. It doesn't work.
- Outliving One's Offspring: Daniel's mother suffers this after he dies in Vietnam. Lucy, his girlfriend, sees as two military men deliver a death notification, after which his mom slumps down in agony.
- Police Brutality: The National Guardsmen during the Detroit Riots shoot unarmed Black people simply for looting. NYPD officers later beat up peaceful protesters, and Jude when he's trying to help Lucy.
- Recycled Soundtrack: The version of "A Day in the Life" used in the film was recorded by Jeff Beck in 1999, being the only cover not original to the film.
- The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: The anti-war group Lucy is in turns violent after the university occupation gets shut down. She walks in on them building pipe bombs, and says sorrowfully that she thought it was the government who used them. Later they accidentally blow themselves up.
- Rich Kid Turned Social Activist: Lucy is a young woman from a wealthy WASP family who becomes more and more entrenched in the anti-war movement.
- Rooftop Concert: The film ends with one of these after all of the characters (minus Lucy) reunite. She shows up for a meaningful eyelock with Jude at the very end though.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: After he gets wounded in Vietnam and sent home, Max is clearly suffering from PTSD. He's shown often staring into the distance with haunted eyes, and starts to drink heavily. By the end of the film he looks like he's begun to recover somewhat though, thankfully.
- Shout-Out: All over the place, down to the title, in reference to the Beatles song "Across the Universe" from Let It Be.
- Every single one of the main character's names are from a Beatles song.
- Jude, naturally, is a Liverpudlian with a thick Scouse accent.
- Prudence coming in through the bathroom window.
- When Jude first sees Prudence: "Hello, Hello"
- Maxwell could have killed his granny with a hammer.
- Mr. Kite is accompanied by the "Blue People".
- The apple Jude tries to draw is basically the Apple Records logo.
- The hand in the Strawberry Fields Forever sequence holding the strawberry grenade
- The tour bus, the one that looks kinda magical and mysterious.
- The impromptu concert on the roof at the end of the film.
- The number on the door of the building is "number 9, number 9, number 9, number 9..."
- An old man at the shipyard tells Jude he thought he'd never be working there "when I'm 64."
- Mr. Kite telling the group to "Just tune in, turn off, drop out, drop in, switch off, switch on and explode" is a joking reference to Timothy Leary's famous "Turn on, tune in, drop out" phrase popular in the hippie movement.
- Springtime for Hitler: Max's attempt to get rejected by the army proves to be unsuccessful.
- Recruiter: "Any reason why you shouldn't be in this man's army, son?"
Max: "I'm a cross-dressing homosexual pacifist with a spot on my lung?"
Recruiter: "As long as you don't have flat-feet."''
- Storefront Television Display: The movie is set in the 1960s and features a scene with Jude watching a national TV broadcast about the Vietnam war at a storefront of a TV repair shop. Later he sees the announcement that Martin Luther King was assassinated the same way.
- The Tape Knew You Would Say That: Twice. The second time, it's a fairly typical use: Jude asks "Is that Sadie?" (on the radio) and the radio announcer says "You got that right." The first time, it's played on the audience: Eddie Izzard Malapropers "somersaults" as "Somersets", pauses for the audience to react, and comments "Whatever they are."
- Theme Naming: Every character with a name had it derived from a Beatles song. There's the obvious, like (Hey) Jude and Lucy (in the Sky with Diamonds), but the minor characters get in on this as well — Lucy and Max have an uncle named Teddy (Boy), and Prudence's new girlfriend is named (Lovely) Rita.
- Title Drop: Done twice, once in the song the movie gets its title from, and once by Mr. Kite."And tonight Mr. Kite is TOPPING THE BILL BABY! ACROSS THE UNIVERSE!"
- Token Minority: The cast is mostly white, but Jo-Jo's a black man.
- Twofer Token Minority: Most members of the cast, with notable exceptions.
- Prudence is a lesbian and played by an actress of East Asian descent.
- Sadie has some obvious black ancestry.
- Uncanny Valley: The recruiting officers in the "She's So Heavy" sequence; they look human, but their identical uniforms and stiff, precise movements are complemented by identical prosthetic masks with unnaturally massive Lantern Jaws of Justice that make them all appear like identical living mannequins.
- Visual Pun: Prudence locks herself in a closet after falling for Sadie, who's straight. Her friends coax her to come out, with her embracing that she's a lesbian with their help.
- War Is Hell: Part of the plot is about the horrors of the Vietnam War. One part in particular is pretty nightmarish, with Max shown in a red-lit scene as he fires wildly around him with his eyes wide in terror, screaming "Die!" at unseen targets.
- Welcome to the Big City: "Come Together" for Jojo, which plays as he arrives in New York. Downplayed, since Jojo is from Detroit and is already familiar with urban life, so he reacts to his new surroundings with mild interest rather than wide-eyed wonder or nervousness.
- Wham Shot: After Lucy chooses staying with the activist group over her relationship with Jude, she returns to their headquarters one night to find the place completely deserted, with even the posters torn from the walls. She hears a mysterious sound from upstairs and follows it to find an even bigger wham - the members of the group, secretly building pipe bombs.
Through my open ears inciting and inviting me
Limitless undying love which shines around me like a million suns
It calls me on and on across the universe…"