Holley Hyler is an IT consultant and published freelance writer living in New York.
What Does It Mean to Be Successful?
Of the questions that were explored in Yesterday, the one that most stood out to me was the meaning of success, especially as one is exploring a life of creativity. This is a question I have posed to myself many times through my twenties and the reason this movie appealed to me. I admit, I struggled to like it at first, but my mind was changed toward the end.
In the beginning of the film, we are introduced to Jack Malik (played by Himesh Patel), who works as a musician and retail employee. We see him struggling at his gigs to hold people's attention, and he seems to only have written one song that has caught on (something about summer - I forget the title, which was probably intentional in the film writing as Jack is not supposed to be all that memorable an artist). His manager, a close friend from childhood, seems to be the only one who encourages and supports him, and she tries to dissuade him from giving up after his gig at a music festival isn't the breakthrough he expected.
After they have this discussion and Jack decides to give up on his dreams, the build-up to the climax from "A Day in the Life" plays as all the lights all over the world slowly fade to black. Then Jack, bicycling home, is hit by a bus and survives. Upon his recovery, he slowly realizes he is the only one in the world who remembers The Beatles... except for two other people, but that comes later.
Other Important Questions
After the lights come back on, Jack finds himself in a world where people do not remember The Beatles, Oasis, cigarettes, or Coke (among others I may have missed). The logic of why these particular things were missing is somewhat apparent, since Oasis drew heavily from the influence of The Beatles. Coke and cigarettes confused me a bit, but The Beatles enjoyed consuming both and it was a humorous twist, so it worked. The how's and why's aren't as important as the other questions covered in Yesterday.
It was meant to explore deeper questions, one of which I have already covered. Here are some of the others that stood out to me:
- What would happen if only a few of us remembered The Beatles?
- Would their songs still catch on, if they were carried out by someone else? (Undoubtedly, diversity is also a part of this question, with Himesh Patel being a British actor of Indian origin.)
- What is the cost of success on such a large scale?
- How much does one's image and likability factor into success?
- Can we be happy while living a lie, even if that lie brings fame and money?
- Which would you prefer - love and a simple life, or success and fame at the cost of love and simplicity?
No doubt, there may be others that emerged from others' viewing experiences, which is why I feel this is such a good film.
The Character of Jack Malik
The main reason I had difficulty feeling invested in the film at the beginning was its main character. Jack Malik, while musically talented, creative, and evidently liked by the customers where he works, doesn't seem to have much going for him personality-wise. He's not really a positive or driven person, and most of his success (pre-bus accident) is likely owed to the strong female influence in his life, that of his manager Ellie Appleton, played by Lily James.
To me, Ellie's romantic interest in him is not entirely believable, because he seems to offer none of the strong traits that she gives to him - her determination, intelligence, faith, and charming sweetness among them. (Granted, they've been friends for a long time, and much of the history of their relationship is not given.) Jack's ethics are also questionable, as he did not seem to give much thought to taking the work of others and passing it off as his own, when that became an obvious path to success for him. He considered it more after facing its consequences, of course.
Had Jack's character been other than what it was, much of the meaning mentioned above may have been lost or changed. A musician who was likable or a genius of songwriting on his own would not have needed to deceive people as Jack did. All of the writing worked for me, except perhaps the love story. That being said, I enjoyed the film's message about love.
A Well-Done Ending
There were a couple of times through the middle of the movie that I feared the ending would be Jack waking up in the hospital, all of this strange, Beatle-less world he experienced a mere dream. If you don't want to find out what happens at the end, you may want to quit reading now.
While some might think how the movie actually ended was a bit cheesy - so what? I love cheese - it was altogether satisfying, and I was able to walk out of the theater feeling better for having watched it. It was a special treat to find, in this alternate universe, John Lennon alive in his old age, widowed, and living in a remote home by the water.
The whole point of life was simple, as this version of Lennon defined it: tell the girl you love how you feel. Would the real Lennon have actually said this if he had lived under the circumstances in the film? Well... that's not really the point either, but I think love (all kinds, not only romantic) may have been at least part of the meaning he drew, if not the entirety of it.
It was a poignant meaning for Jack, who spent most of his friendship with Ellie convinced that his feelings for her were no more than that of a brother toward a sister, that he should not take it any further with someone with whom he had worked. One of the factors that helped him understand the truth was when Ellie told him she was dating another man, and suddenly he felt the absence of the woman who had encouraged and loved him when no one else would. (I frown a bit as I type this.)
And in the End
I can say that as a Beatles fan for about fifteen years now, I enjoyed this and would recommend it to those who love the music and want to watch something with a feel-good ending. The only true disappointment was that Ed Sheeran was in this, and Ringo and Paul weren't. What the heck?
Hopefully I don't lose any Ed Sheeran fans by saying that! Thanks for reading.
© 2019 Holley Hyler
Jana Louise Smit from South Africa on July 06, 2019:
Great review. Alternate histories fascinate me, so this was an engaging read. Hope to see more reviews from you in the future. :)