Across the Universe

Imperturbable, quiet beauty in the midst of chaos

First things first. This video is downright classic. I’m honestly not sure I’m entirely worthy to write about it. I’m not sure anyone is. Let’s get that out of the way. The song and its video is better than me, it is better than you, and it is better than any of us are likely to be. 🙂 This is a Fiona Apple cover of the Beatles’ timeless hit “Across the Universe,” originally released in 1999, for the film Pleasantville, and the video is an unmistakable and genuine, perfect, and timeless accompaniment to a brilliant recording. Bravo.

The only piece of color in the entire video is a piece of cubist stained glass artwork adorning the outside a 1950s-style soda shop, which we see in the opening shot. The camera moves close lazily, deliberately, following along with the slow, intentional, tidal rhythm of a drumset. As Apple’s weary, delicate, beautiful voice enters the mix, a park bench suddenly flies through the colored glass, leaving shattered shards of color scattered through the unnamed soda shop. Angry violent men jump through the windows and begin to ransack the shop. We see Apple, nestled in a corner, wearing large white headphones and transfixing the camera with a deep, lovely stare that grabs and transfixes you. As the rioters flood through the windows, smashing every item in their reach, Apple remains unperturbed, singing “J’ai Guru Deva, om,” and holding us firmly in her lovely gaze.

Over the course of the video, the camera rarely strays from Apple’s deep and unreadable eyes. She spins upside down, her long hair sweeping down toward the ground, betraying the laws of gravity and reality, even as the sweep and current of the music betrays the hectic, violent atmosphere surrounding her. Watching her is like watching a buoy or an anchor in a storm, whose weight and depth prevent the stormy currents of the seas affecting it. The world she inhabits is black-and-white, but the color and depth of the music she sings carries her above it, like an angel. The song describes blissful abandon and release, and contrasts sharply with the chaotic and riotous environment we see surrounding her, letting Fiona Apple lend her considerable warmth and heartfelt personality to her performance and taking it beyond the level of your average cover song.

A few people know this already, but John Lennon’s song “Imagine” is a huge influence on me. I’ve had a poster of Lennon’s grave, with flowers and apples left in tribute, hanging in my room since early in my college career, and keep it in my room even to this day. John Lennon was a man with a challenging and revolutionary message, especially in the lyrics “Imagine,” but in this song as well. He sang in his time that organized religion and strict dogma was secondary to love, beauty and universal acceptance, and that competition and violence were not the natural state of our souls. In “Across the Universe,” as well, the lyrics speak of internal peace that does not rely on serenity of surroundings or outwardly-imposed beliefs. “Nothing’s gonna change my world,” the lyrics go, paradoxically, as the world we see is drastically and radically changing with every passing moment. In this video, Apple sits shoulder to shoulder with the violent rioters, but she is grounded and unaffected by their fire and rage. She exudes an aura of serenity and profound soulfulness.

Then, at 2:32, the camera draws close to her, the colors dim and she finally removes her headphones, sweeping the viewer deeply into her internal dialogue. Paper flies behind her like doves released in a wedding as the camera pulls away, and men pull records from the jukebox, smashing and destroying what remains of the shop. She sits cross-legged in the doorway as the rioters stream back out, into the street. It is hard to say what she thinks of the destructive activity surrounding her, but the video ends with a glimmering, mischievous smile on her face as the song draws to a close. I hesitate presume, but by all appearances- she revels in it.

Shabbat shalom y’all! Enjoy your Saturday!

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