We start in Liverpool. Stuart Sutcliffe and John Lennon are at a club; Stu makes a nude sketch of the girl onstage. Some big men confront them. John and Stu leave the club, but the men follow, and we end up seeing Stu pounded heavily, his cranium taking the trauma. This will be important later.
We see several scenes of John and Stu bonding, and one of Stu choosing to be a bassist. We do not see any other Beatles until the ferry to Europe, about 15 minutes in.
We see the seedy nightlife of the Reeperbahn played to the hilt. After all, this is where the Beatles truly cut their teeth as performers, playing long shifts on stage and gaining the professionalism and artistic experience that would pay off spectacularly when they hooked up with Brian Epstein back in Britain.
And finally, we are at the Kaiserkeller, and we see Klaus Voormann and Astrid Kirchherr. John does not get along with them. Stu falls in love...
From here on, we alternate between scenes with The Beatles and scenes with Stu and Astrid (and sometimes others).
There is a Foregone Conclusion.
- Ambition Is Evil: Paul McCartney—in this film, and with what little time he's given, he is an antagonistic figure causing conflict between Lennon and Sutcliffe. But it's a mixed example: see Jerkass Has a Point below. most of what he does is for the success of the band.
- Blood from the Mouth: From Stu when he has his attack.
- Cassandra Truth: Paul's warning that Stu has to leave the Beatles and denial that John will leave with him. John doesn't believe it until it happens.
- Chekhov's Gunman: Ringo Starr shows up in an early scene, but his role is limited to laying sick in Stu's bed. Of course, he later shows up as the Beatles' drummer, replacing Pete Best, after they achieve success.
- Cult Soundtrack: The whole aim of the film soundtrack was to recapture the "punk" feel of the early Beatles rocking out in Hamburg early in their careers. So how do you do it properly? By getting Dave Grohl, R.E.M's Mike Mills, Thurston Moore, David Pirner, and other band members from The Afghan Whigs and Gumball to belt out old 50s standards with all the gusto they could muster.
- Foregone Conclusion: A few:
- Stu leaving the Beatles to pursue his ambitions in the art world.
- Stu's death.
- The rest of the Beatles striking it big later on.
- Gilligan Cut: A darkly hilarious one, when the Beatles are knackered from playing their first sets in Hamburg without the benefit of chemical stimulation, and it's one in the morning and they still have another set to do:Bruno Koschmider: English! Showtime!John: [exhausted-looking] Come on, Bruno, have a heart, we're knackered.Bruno Koschmider: One o'clock. Showtime.John: Just look at us. Look at George, he's dead on his feet. Look at Pete, his hands are fucked. Look at me, I'm knackered. I'm a shadow of meself. I haven't eaten in a week.Waitress: Here.
[She counts out some small blue pills into his hand.]John: [sourly] I was thinking more along the lines of a steak.
[He swallows them. Cut to the band onstage, him singing with his eyes popping out of his head, soaked in sweat, and a toilet seat around his neck, and the song being played insanely fast.]John: Saw Uncle John! With Long Tall Sally! He-saw-Aunt-Mary-comin' andheduckedbackinthealleyoh, bay-beeeeh...
- Heroic BSoD: John has one when he visits Stu's studio after Stu has died; he wanders around it, looking lost, and Astrid photographs him sitting on a chair with George standing behind him. This was Truth in Television, in the photo in the film is based on a real photo Astrid took of the event.
- Jerkass Has a Point. Paul was correct in noting that Sutcliffe wasn't really good enough to play with the rest of the band, and that they would have to get rid of him if they were going to succeed. Sutcliffe himself, who basically joined The Beatles because he was John Lennon's best friend, was aware of this.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: John Lennon. He's abrasive, he's bad at hiding that he's attracted to Astrid and is jealous of Stu, and he's also jealous of Astrid for taking away his best friend, but after Stu's death he sings "Love Me Tender" when Astrid is in the audience, because it's what Stu sang the night she first set eyes on him.
- Love at First Sight: Stu and Astrid first see each other at an early gig in the first club the Beatles perform in in Hamburg, and though Stu is busy performing it is clear that they both see each other and feel something.
- Love Dodecahedron: Stu is in love with Astrid, who has been dating Klaus and who John claims to have fallen for, while John is also accused of being in love with Stu. Oh, and there's also John's fiancee Cynthia.
- Mythology Gag: "I've been working eight days a week," says Stu to a doctor.
- Pungeon Master: You can't have a film about the Beatles without their trademark wit.