I’m not a huge fan of Julie Taymor’s Titus, but I’ll never forget the moment when Titus’s brother discovers his niece, Titus’s daughter Lavinia, outside the city. Raped and brutalized, her tongue and hands savagely cut off, Lavinia stands atop a tree trunk with twigs protruding from the stumps of her arms and tears streaking her ash-white face: a silently weeping scarecrow against a pale blue sky. The image, paradoxically, is hauntingly beautiful—which is sort of a problem. Taymor has created a gorgeous tableau, dazzling in its aesthetic artistry, but the emotional context is muted. The sheer beauty overwhelms the horror.
That kind of visual splendor disguising emotional vacuity is a recurrent problem in Taymor’s work, on both stage and screen, and her latest film, Across the Universe, is no different. Admirably ambitious yet ultimately rather shallow, Universe is pretty but empty. I remember the set pieces vividly; the story I’ve already half forgotten.