Radical Politics and “Across the Universe”

Julie Taymor’s Across the Universe is a revisionist musical that incorporates a number of songs by The Beatles into the narrative. The film details the life of the main character, Jude, and the changes he experiences throughout several decades of political turmoil and social experimentation. Jude travels to the United States in search of his G.I. father, and takes residence in an artsy, hippy town. As the years progress, we see Jude working as a freelance artist, while his girlfriend, Lucy, gets involved with radical leftist politics and the mass opposition to the Vietnam War. Because of the differences in lifestyles, Jude and Lucy eventually split,  and Jude is deported. When Jude’s friend Max returns from Vietnam wounded, the three finally reunite in New York.

While some critics argue that Across the Universe unquestioningly sings the praises of the revolutionist ideology of the 1960’s and early 1970’s, it is important to note the critique of the extreme radical politics that the film presents. The scene in which men (most likely representative of the Weather Underground) are seen creating explosives can be interpreted as a criticism of the hypocrisy of using violence to make a statement against state-sponsored violence. Taymor draws parallels between the social and political issues of the 1960’s and 70’s and those of our generation, particularly in the similarities between the Vietnam War and the modern-day war in the Middle East, and the public’s opinion of the government’s actions in each case.


The Red Scare and Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a 1954 science-fiction with moral and political undertones. The film begins with Miles, a patient (actually a doctor) in a mental institution, explaining to the caregivers that the world is being invaded by extraterrestrials. He details his accounts of patients of his own making appointments and suddenly canceling. He also encounters several patients that claim a close relative of theirs has been replaced by an impostor. After some investigation, Miles discovers several bodies that take on the characteristics of already existent people. He discovers plant-like pods that hatch human lookalikes to replace people with emotionless and less-individualistic persons.

Despite what the author of the original novel has to say about the film, the plot can still be interpreted as a product of the Red Scare. Several elements that exemplify the fear of communism can be seen throughout the film, such as the “loss of emotion” or the “loss of individuality”. These elements are the metaphorical embodiment of what the American public feared at the time: the loss of freedom as a result of communist invasion, especially by the Soviet Union. The feeling of imminent threat of communist invasion is conveyed by the stealthiness with which the extraterrestrials invade Earth.

All That Heaven Allows as a Criticism of Social Conformity

All That Heaven Allows is a melodrama from the 50’s about a woman named Cary, who, after the death of her husband, becomes romantically interested in a man who gardens at her house. The gardener, Ron Kirby, lives simply in a small house and enjoys cultivating trees. He is somewhat of a non-conformist, in that he does not consider important the things that much of the culture did at the time. Cary’s interest in Ron evolves into a relationship that is the topic of much gossip throughout her town. Rumors spread that there was an affair between Cary and Ron even before Cary’s husband died, which is certainly not true. Because of the social ostracism Cary faces, she eventually breaks off the relationship. The relationship is rekindled when Ron slips and injures himself – Cary returns to care for him and decides to stay with him.

All That Heaven Allows can be interpreted as a criticism of social conformity in the 1950’s. Ron Kirby embodies the self-actualized man whose principles are different than those prevalent in that time. Ron lives simply and enjoys nature, and has a distinct view of what is important and what isn’t. When the town begins to gossip about the relationship between Ron and Cary, Ron tells Cary that what they say is not important – the feelings that the two share are. The plot of the film is centered on Cary’s decision between conforming to the conventions of the era out of fear of social ostracism and being with somebody that makes her happy. The film criticizes the superficiality of the social norms of the era and asserts that true happiness and self-actualization come from within, rather than from what is dictated by society.