Streaming on HBO is Danny Boyle’s Yesterday, a story about how we are to prioritize our lives when good fortune drops into our lap. Jack Malik is a struggling musician who wakes up one day to an alternate reality in which he is the only person on Earth who remembers the Beatles and their music. As a hopeful artist who never has felt praised for anything of his own creation, Jack sets out to make a name for himself by producing the music of the Beatles for himself. As success and fame seize him and “his” music, we see Jack struggle with his own identify as he learns of what he truly wants from his life.
As an audience member who has never been a devoted fan of the Beatles, I tried to watch this film without a perspective that is dulled by adoration of the Beatles’s legacy. Entering into this movie, I expected the themes to be closer to ones of sentimentality, such as desirous love or musical devotion. More prevalent, however, was the theme of what it means to be authentic despite the allure of obtaining mass appeal.
Just like the alternate universe in which Jack finds himself, Yesterday possesses a odd feeling of over-saturation. The execution of the characters’s motivations, while often resonant with real life, seemed slightly off and left me to believe that the script-writers did not properly prepare for certain plot set-ups. That being said, the majority of the characters appeared normal in comparison to Jack’s second manager, Debra Hammer: a representation of surface-level production value that only cares about Jack’s profitability. This larger-than-life persona is a caricature of executives from the music industry in real life who are in the business of sucking currency out of a creative entity. While Debra works to build a solely-profitable image for Jack, we see Elle, Jack’s first manager, who had only worked to affirm and encourage who Jack already was. The stark distinction between the two managers is offered as a choice for Jack; is it more valuable to be widely profitable as a product, or uniquely valued as an authentic being?
As Jack dives deeper into his woven lie, he grows increasingly anxious that someone knows his secret and that he will be put to shame for the liberties he has taken with the Beatles’s music. The pace and sequencing plays on the feelings of anxiety that many may know as an imposter syndrome. As Jack is credited as a genius, he feels increasingly lost in the image that has been developed for him.
What is the cost of accepting the love that we are freely given? So often it can be easy to hope for love that is given for what we offer the world, but there is a sort of indescribable sacrifice one must make in order to be loved just as they are. Despite its occasional nonsense and the unpredictable writing, Yesterday is a charming film that sparks thought and reflection about personal authenticity, and hopefully draws to mind someone in your own life who has valued you even at your lowest points.