Jim Sturgess plays artist Jude
Across the Universe on IMDB
The film's plot and narrative structure interweave the stories of several characters whose lives cross paths during events set against the backdrop of the turbulent middle/late 1960s. The story apparently takes place from about late 1965 to mid 1969.
The story begins in Liverpool, England with a young shipyard worker named Jude (Jim Sturgess). Against the wishes of both his mother and his girlfriend, Jude enlists in the merchant navy and travels by ship to the United States of America ("All My Loving"). He jumps ship in New Jersey to search for his American G.I. father, Wes Huber (Robert Clohessy), whom he has never met and who does not know he exists. As Jude is landing in New York, Lucy's G.I. boyfriend's truck passes an Ohio football field where a Cheerleader (Prudence) sings to herself her feelings towards a fellow cheerleader ("I Wanna Hold Your Hand"). After Jude learns that his father works at Princeton as a janitor, he goes to meet him, but then Jude has nowhere else to go.
He befriends a Princeton student, Maxwell (Max) Carrigan (Joe Anderson), a rebellious and eccentric young man from a privileged background. Max and his friends come from upper class families who pay for their schooling, so they mess around, drink, and smoke marijuana ("With a Little Help From My Friends"). Meanwhile, Lucy gets a letter from her boyfriend, who's away at war, and daydreams about when she'll see him again ("It Won't Be Long"). When Max goes home for Thanksgiving, bringing Jude with him, Jude meets Max's younger sister Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood) ("I've Just Seen A Face"). After a heated argument with his parents about his future, Max drops out of college and moves to New York City, accompanied by Jude. Max works as a taxi driver, while Jude pursues work as a freelance artist. They become roommates in a bohemian enclave in Greenwich Village, where they share an apartment with others, most notably Sadie (Dana Fuchs), their landlady, who is an aspiring singer and a representation of Janis Joplin. Other residents include Jojo (Martin Luther McCoy), a guitarist representing Jimi Hendrix, who arrives from Detroit, Michigan after the death of his younger brother during the 12th Street Riot ("Let It Be") ("Come Together"); and Prudence (T. V. Carpio) a young woman who has hitchhiked to New York City from Dayton, Ohio, and recently escaped an abusive "boyfriend" who lives in a nearby apartment. After Lucy's boyfriend, Daniel (Spencer Liff), is killed in Vietnam, she goes to New York City to visit Max ("Why Don't We Do It in the Road?") before she starts college, despite the fact that her parents are against the idea.
Romantic relationships develop between Lucy and Jude ("If I Fell"), and between Sadie and Jojo, while Max visits the Army draft board and cannot avoid recruitment ("I Want You"). One night, Prudence (who seemingly has a crush on Sadie) becomes depressed, and hides in a closet. Upon realizing where she is, her friends coax her out of the closet ("Dear Prudence"). Prudence mysteriously leaves the group after wandering off enthralled by street performers at a peace rally. As Sadie and Max discuss Prudence's now-empty room, Max uses a hammer to bang out the first seven notes of "Maxwell's Silver Hammer".
Sadie and her band, the Po Boys (referencing a line in "Down on the Corner"), with Jojo as her lead guitarist, are courted by a prospective manager, who invites them to a book function for an existential drug guru named Doctor Robert (Bono), based on Ken Kesey. After serving punch that appears to be laced with LSD (aka Kesey's Electric Kool-Aid), Doctor Robert lectures that the New Yorkers are two years behind the new agers of California, and urges everyone that "time is of the essence, we have to transcend fast" ("I Am the Walrus").
The friends embark with Doctor Robert and his followers on an epic journey inside a psychedelically painted bus named "Beyond", an allusion to Ken Kesey's real-life bus "Furthur". They wake up not knowing where they are or how they got there. They learn Doctor Robert has taken them to the spiritual retreat compound of Dr. Frank Geary, a fellow psychonaut "Navigator", and leader of a cult called the "League of Spiritual Deliverance" (Geary is an allusion to Timothy Leary, who headed the International Foundation for Internal Freedom, from his estate in Millbrook). Mirroring the real-life refusal of Leary to commune with Kesey when the latter showed up unexpectedly at Leary's rural retreat house, Geary refuses to see Doctor Robert who, resigned to this news, retires to California. The friends, however, are stranded.
At the cult compound, the friends are reunited with Prudence, who now is a performer in the circus of "Mr. Kite," (Eddie Izzard) a merry entertainer, who wants to challenge the world of show business with his "blue people" (a reference to the Blue Meanies from the Beatles 1968 film Yellow Submarine). The Marry Pranksters can also be seen playing the instrumental part of the song "Mr. Kite" ("Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite") ("Because").
When Max is drafted and sent to Vietnam, Lucy becomes increasingly involved in the anti-war movement, while Jude (who, despite potentially having U.S. citizenship due to his American father, is still living without a visa and thus cannot be drafted) remains comparatively apolitical, but ever enamored by Lucy ("Something"). Jude becomes unhappy with the amount of time Lucy spends with a political group, "Students for a Democratic Republic" (SDR), an allusion to the real life group Students for a Democratic Society suspecting that its leader, Paco, is a lothario. Jude's art and his relationship with Lucy both start to falter ("Strawberry Fields").
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