Story (from IMDb): A struggling musician realizes he’s the only person on Earth who can remember The Beatles after waking up in an alternate timeline where they never existed.
Themes: Normal Romantic Comedy “Will they/Won’t They” theme. Also there is a very slight and breezy examination of what the purpose of life is and the ethical dilemma of creative theft.
Age Appropriateness: (Rated PG-13) Teen (13-18) and up [Just a little language and some drug references. However younger children may be bored by the pace and themes of the film].
MY TAKE (major spoilers ahead):
I think “Yesterday” would make a great “date movie.” It is a classic somewhat predictable romantic comedy that is legitimately funny in places. However, I think to fully get behind the movie, you need to buy the premise (or at least for the sake of the movie pretend to accept it). The premise is that the music of the Beatles is both transcendent and foundational to humanity. The movie’s central question (outside the romantic comedy theme) is: if you were a struggling artist and suddenly were the only one to know the music of the Beatles (A) Would you share the music (since the world NEEDs it)? And (B) would you be willing to pretend you wrote the music to get your own career kickstarted? The movie never even entertains the third option (C) would anyone care about the music of the Beatles if the music was taken out of its historical context?
At first, I thought I might write about this theme for the remainder of the blog (maybe I would have titled this post- “Would the Music of the Beatles be the Beatles if the Beatles weren’t the Beatles when they were the Beatles?”). I quickly realized that I don’t know enough about music to say much on this topic. But as I reflected more on “Yesterday,” I realized I didn’t find this theme nearly as interested as another. I kept finding myself thinking about the end of the film.
MAJOR SPOILER TIME!!!
At the end of the film, Jack (the struggling artist), meets one of the Beatles (who in this world never was a Beatle). The Beatle tells Jack that the most important things in life are (1) to love and (2) to tell the truth as much as possible. Jack goes on the admit on stage that none of the music he has been singing is his, Jack goes on to make all the songs free to the public, and then goes off to pursue the love of his life. In the epilogue of the movie we find Jack living in his hometown, teaching, married with kids, and happy. Apparently, there is some merit for Jack to seek the goals of (a) loving and (b) telling the truth as much as possible.
But here’s the thing. I just don’t buy this epilogue at all. The movie postulates that the Beatles music is transcendent. By singing Beatles songs, Jack became an overnight sensation simply due to the power of his approximation of the original Beatles’ lyrics and music. When Jack admits that the music was actually the Beatles and names the true authors, the movie seems to imply that no one would then go look up those names and the band (that does not exist in this world). And once people found out that the Beatles do not exist in this world, wouldn’t they just assume that Jack was lying and was the creator? I don’t think Jack could have returned to his hometown and to a “quiet” life. I think he would be bugged ALL THE TIME, by songwriters and aspiring artists and people moved by the music of the Beatles, who wanted to be near this humble and lying music genius & guru behind that music. I think Jack and his family would need to go into hiding, not live an “ordinary life” in his hometown.
I say all this because I think as a society, we know that people lie all the time. People exaggerate when they talk about the fish they catch, they often lie to themselves when they try to live with the mistakes they’ve made, they lie to their loved ones about how their loved ones look sometimes when trying to be nice, they lie when they are trying to tell stories from their past and forget some of the details. Some of us tell big lies for nefarious reasons… but most of us tell little lies all the time simply to fill in details, be nice, or cover our mistakes a little. In a world full of liars, I think the conclusion most would come to in “Yesterday” is that Jack was lying about not being the creator of all that Beatles music.
But for me the implausibility of the epilogue of the movie just seems to reinforce the overall message which I like… that a good life consists of loving and telling the truth as much as possible. Over the years, I’ve heard lots of sermons that talk about what the Bible teaches about lying. Often these sermons get stuck in the weeds. Are little white lies bad? What about lies that help someone (like hiding a Jew during the Holocaust)? What about lies that spare others feelings? When does a little nice lie become a big bad one? If we do live in a world full of lying and liars, who can be believed?
The good news on this topic that I find in my faith tradition, is that this legalistic debate is not something we have to fall into. We simply accept the grace of God that comes through Christ and try to follow Jesus by loving God and others. And that’s where I like the message of this movie. Maybe we can keep things simple, just understanding that one way we can love others is to “tell the truth as often as we can.”