Saturday, March 14, 2009

A Hippie Kind of Cool

As we watched this week’s film, Easy Rider, there was one particular movie and one particular band that kept coming to mind. Across the Universe was released in 2007, but was based during the same time period of Easy Rider—the late 1960s. Across the Universe is a film based entirely on music by the Beatles. Its story is told through the use of many songs by the Beatles and by members of the Beatles. The film begins showing a young man, Jude, in Liverpool, England. Jude travels to the United States to find his father, who is working on Princeton’s janitorial staff. There, Jude meets Max, the son of a wealthy American family. Jude goes home with Max for Thanksgiving and meets Lucy, Max’s sister. Not long after that, Max drops out of school and he and Jude head to New York City. They find a small apartment to live in. There, they meet Sadie, their landlady who is trying to make it as a singer; Prudence, a young woman who has hitchhiked from Dayton, Ohio; and Jojo, a guitarist. Once Lucy’s boyfriend is killed in Vietnam, she also heads to New York to live with Max and Jude.

This movie is all about the convergence of different people with different lifestyles. The film is laced with references and representatives of huge 1960s icon such as when Ken Kesey and his Electric Kool-Aid make an appearance while Sadie and Jojo are meeting with a prospective manager for their band. There is also a huge “trip” when the group of friends jump into this psychedelic van name “Beyond” and head to an unknown destination. Presumably, they are all on LSD and there is period in the movie where, as a viewer, I was completely thrown off and confused (very similar to how I felt during Easy Rider’s trip scene). What amazes me, is that Easy Rider was filmed during the prime of this counter culture , while Across the Universe was filmed almost forty years later yet I feel like it was pretty much dead-on in its representation of that time period and counter culture. This opinion is only reinforced after watching Easy Rider.

However, I do think the two films had two different purposes. Easy Rider was filmed to bring recognition to the cool aspect of this counter culture and perhaps to combat prejudices that accompanied that lifestyle. It showed the way outsiders viewed Wyatt and Billie and the disapproval and hate their lifestyle brought upon them. While Across the Universe shows the turmoil within that particular counter culture—war protests, the breaking up of families, and the consequences of their actions and decisions; but it was also produced to bring about recognition of that time period as a whole, with emphasis on one particular counter culture of that time. I think it does a good job of showing both the cool and the not-so-cool aspects of the hippie and anti-war era. Since the release of that movie (and perhaps because of it), a new generation of Beatle’s fans has sprung up. The Beatles and the peace sign had always been around, but this film gave my generation a better idea of the feeling and passion behind both of those icons.


  1. I agree with you that the movie attempted to shed a positive light on this counter-culture. Do you think it succeeded during the time?

  2. If I had to guess, I would say that it probably didn't. I think that the opinions and lifestyles represented were in the minority and were not influential enought to prompt drastic lifestyle changes in the masses.

  3. You say that it feels like these movies hit dead on the counterculture of the time, but in thinking about movies, particularly fictional ones, do you ever worry that what you are thinking of as dead on is really just idealized?

  4. Both of these movies do what movies do somewhat often and with mixed results - put the weight of an entire society or subculture into the portrayal of one person. Think of Rick in Casablanca as a representative of the U.S. With Easy Rider, Wyatt and Billy are necessarily directly related, but the film seeks to represent a cross-section of alternate Americas - down to the bloody ending. Across the Universe tries to set a period of time to its music and then tries to make a story between the two.

    My question would not be if they succeeded in shedding positive or negative light, but if they succeeded at all. Do you think these movies go beyond their directors' and scriptwriters' abilities to tell a good story, or do you think that the directors and scriptwriters were able to handle these complicated stories effectively?