Tag Archives: Danny Boyle

“Fucking Peasants”: An Alternate Ending to Danny Boyle’s “Yesterday”

Thursday, May 14, 2020

The spring semester is almost over; in addition to finishing my assessments of M.A. exams, I’ve turned in grades for two of my classes, and am starting to read the seminar papers by my graduate students in “West Coast Literature after World War II.” However, I’ll be teaching a compressed course in the first summer session, which starts in less than two weeks, so there is not much time to catch up with unfinished projects this spring. On the “finished” side of the ledger, I am happy to report that Eileen Aronson Ireland’s first book of poems will soon be out from Brooks Roddan’s IFSF Publishing. I have more or less served as the unofficial executive editor of her book the past two years, doing everything from collating the poems electronically and transmitting them to the book designer, proofreading the text, tracking the revisions to the poems, securing blurbs, writing an introduction, and finding a cover photograph and other visual material, on top of serving as an intermediary in other ways.

The mid-week movie screening turned out to be Danny Boyle’s Yesterday, which proved to be a disappointment except in the acting. Himesh Patel is pitch-perfect in generating the essential disparity between his character’s actual talent as a musician and songwriter and the flamboyant nuances of popular music as produced in a collaborative effort such as The Beatles. The songs, for the most part, still resonant with their original charisma; Patel does an exceptional job at being the latest version of a cover band. If his career as an actor ever falters, he won’t need a day job. He could skip the costume changes. In his hands, the songs dispense with the need for period ornamentation.

The script of Yesterday, however, is another matter, especially in the last half-hour. While the use of John Lennon’s song, “Help” as a song to comment on the predicament of a sincere plagiarist becoming an international success is a wise, if fairly obvious, choice as textual irony, the story not only ignores the ethical implications and consequences of plagiarism, but comes close to rewarding its perpetrator for his appropriation. Plagiarism is just another plot device in a late-blooming coming-of-age story. Yeah, just what we need right now in at atmosphere of permeating misinformation.

While watching this film, I thought once again of Norman Klein’s emphasis on erasure as an essential part of the “social imaginary.” What gets erased in Yesterday is John Lennon’s acrid rebuke of “phony Beatlemania” (as the Clash termed it in a song that must have had its lyric replaced in the search engine efforts of the film’s protagonist). It would have been a far more honest assessment of the impact of the Beatles’ music to end the film at Wemley with “The Dream Is Over,” followed by “Working Class Hero”: “You’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see.”

And indeed we are, if we succumb to the superficiality of this film’s interrogation of cultural work.