It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
When John Lennon was killed on Dec. 8, 1980, he left behind some 200 hours of film and video footage, most of it never publicly seen, a lot of it in the category of home movies. The people who made "Imagine: John Lennon" had access to all of it, and so this is not a return visit to the familiar Beatles footage we've seen before in documentaries like "The Beatles Story." Although "Imagine" begins in Lennon's childhood and of course includes the Beatles period, the emphasis is on the years after the Beatles broke up and he merged with Yoko Ono.
I use that word - "merged" - deliberately, because the movie portrays John and Oko not so much as man and wife, business partners or artistic collaborators, but as two people who had spent so much time alone together on various planes of awareness that they had started to act as if they were one - like twins or an old married couple. The effect is of a psychic barrier between John and Yoko and the rest of the world; they're inside looking out.
Those final years were the end of a long journey for the restless boy from Liverpool who had a lonely, unsettled youth, who was raised by a beloved aunt, who was violent and moody and then burst forth into one of the greatest songwriters of modern times. Lennon was above all an artist - his music will live as long as songs are sung - but the Beatles made him into a cultural hero as well, a star who lived inside a bubble of wealth, fame and adulation and could rarely feel alone and off-guard. It was a form of heroism that led him to live in New York as if he were an ordinary person - insisting on walking the streets, going to movies, going to the park with his son, as if those freedoms were the right of anyone, even an ex-Beatle. That delusion was ended by Mark David Chapman.
"Imagine" is not an obituary, however, but a memory. What it remembers most clearly were those enchanted and befuddled days of hippies and flower power, bed-ins and the love generation, when John and Yoko spent their honeymoon in bed together, holding press conferences to advise people to grow their hair and work for peace. The whole time comes rushing back in one long sequence where John and Yoko have a debate with Al Capp, the right-wing creator of L'il Abner, about the effectiveness of their bed-in. Capp is a performer, aware all the time that he's being filmed. In the face of his debating points, John seems bewildered and a little petulant.