Ostensibly this is the point of “Across the Universe,” a recent film about being young adults in 1960s America. I’ll refrain from an lengthy treatment of the film, which I need to go see again to be sure of how I felt the first time. I walked away from the cinema that night slightly disturbed though, and it wasn’t just my intoxication or the pseudo-surrealist techniques of the film.
For all the film’s revolutionary pretentions, or at least content, the message I got was subtly anti-revolutionary and reacitonary. As the story develops, our protagonist, Jude, a young man from Liverpool in America searching out his paternal root, realizes himself as an artist. The girl he falls in love with, Lucy, half the reason he doesn’t go back to Liverpool, gets caught up in the revolutionary activities best summed under the banner of activism. A tension develops as the Lucy’s activism encroaches on Jude’s artistic aspirations, in which she reminds him he is able to engross himself because he has no worries of being drafted; he’s an illegal alien at this point, and faces deportation at the worst.
From that point on, the activist’s Lucy works with appear almost cultish. Jude comes into their headquarters, which isn’t all that secretive, and punches their leader in the face. All the while, as we get to watch Jude’s development as an artist there is a sympathy practically built into every shot. He’s shown as misunderstood though uniquely important, the quintessential mantra of ostensible liberal rebelliousness.
I have to admit that the sequence shot to “Strawberry Fields” starts out quite interesting, and the connection they make to the Vietnam war is thoughtful. Jude is working with strawberries and blood-red paint, and Lucy’s brother, Max, is in the killing fields of Vietnam. Whatever potential this sequence has, though, gets smothered with a cartoonish attempt at surrealism.
These moments notwithstanding, Jude is clearly the typical liberal of today’s milleu, who is compelled to enjoy themself in self-expression. Lucy, or more precisely the activists with whom she runs, are whatever traces of concrete revolutionary activity that today (and probably then) threaten this enjoyment. In this respect, I want to draw a very direct parallel to Zizek’s critique/review of the new Star Wars movies. There the same structure abounds: in a universe of harmony and unity, if not to say decadent enjoyment, one-sided action is only possible as evil. Likewise, Lucy’s activist-friends in a scene near the end, are caught by her constructing what are clearly small explosives. In disgust she says, “I thought it was the other side dropping bombs,” and leaves. The ethics of this situation is not even approachable though, which makes it all the more sticky to ask for a different view. It is clear in Lucy’s reproach, which she deploys as if she (read as: Jude) already had it in mind, that it is not the taking of human life she admonishes, but the concreteness and potential effectivenss of the activists’ action.