Amid every rash, destructive, feral thing that happens in the mere four minutes of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Across the Universe
(1998), the overall bearing of Fiona Apple throughout is perhaps the most mysteriously compelling of all. Somehow this woman carries herself . . . within the slow-motion, monochromatic chaos that is its backdrop of epic Soda Shop vandalism . . . with neither authority nor submission; neither blissful ignorance of what’s happening around her, nor knowing assent. She seems a world (or two) apart from its ceaseless shower of paper napkins. straws, menus, flying glass shards, ballbats, ice cream scoops, gumballs, crowbars, venetian blinds, chairs and tables hurled in every conceivable direction; yet she nevertheless appears to draw an odd, private strength from it in the same instant. Singing John Lennon’s hymn to an exalted state of being as if it were a lament, she shines brightly.
Across the Universe is a music video produced in connection with an immensely obvious and stupid movie of the late-nineties entitled Pleasantville (a film Anderson otherwise had nothing to do with); and if you have to call it something; give it a name . . . something you must always do in film criticism, whether the work under review deserves to be embalmed in words or not . . . you could say that you were seeing the one perfect expression of post-Christian martyrdom our culture has seen fit to cough up.
You could say it; and I’d probably agree with you.