Warning: SPOILERS For Yesterday
Danny Boyle's Yesterday is a world without the Beatles that ends with an unexpected twist - things are never restored back to 'normal'. In Yesterday, a struggling British musician named Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) becomes the only person in the world (or so he thinks) that remembers the Beatles and their music existed. He begins recording their music and soon becomes a global pop superstar - but it's all a lie based on the work of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr.
Yesterday's pivotal, reality-altering event is a sudden global blackout. For 12 seconds, the entire world lost power at 12:01 am. When electricity was restored, everything resumed as normal - almost, because of some random but significant changes that occurred during the blackout. Jack was struck by a bus during the blackout and ended up hospitalized; when he recovered, he played a song for his group of friends, including his manager Ellie Appleton (Lily Hames). The song he sang was "Yesterday" by the Beatles, and Jack was baffled that no one recognized the song or had ever heard of the legendary band from Liverpool. When Jack realized that the unthinkable happened and the Beatles were somehow wiped from history, he began recording their music and touring with Ed Sheeran. Performing the Beatles' music unexpectedly propels Jack to a record deal, because everyone believed he had written some of the greatest rock songs ever all by himself.
To Jack's credit, he struggles with the reality that he is, in fact, a fraud benefiting from the work of legends - albeit legends no one has ever heard of. While his new Los Angeles-based record label and manager Debra Hammer (Kate McKinnon) oversee his burgeoning superstardom, Jack realizes that Ellie has loved him since they met as children and that he loves her back, but he's now about to lose her forever. Jack's solution to all of his troubles is to confess that the Beatles wrote all of the songs he's performed, to not accept any money for them, and to release the Beatles' music digitally to the world for free. He also publicly declares his love for Ellie at Wembley Stadium.
While Yesterday's ending satisfyingly indulges in romantic comedy tropes and gives Jack and Ellie a storybook happy ending, the film also raises eyebrows by what it chooses not to resolve. Here's how Danny Boyle's Beatles-less fantasy continued to upend reality:
Yesterday's Ending Keeps The World Without The Beatles
Yesterday ends without the world ever going back to the way things were before the blackout - and the Beatles continue to have never existed. Because the film is a romantic comedy primarily focused on Jack, Ellie, and their plight, there is little explanation for the blackout and how or why it occurred - it simply happened, was an odd event that everyone in the world knows about, but life otherwise continued unabated. Further, the new reality of the world without the Beatles caused by the blackout is never reversed and the film simply... lets it be.
Interestingly, Yesterday doesn't play by the 'rules' of similar films where reality is changed, such as Groundhog Day, for instance. By the rules of Bill Murray's beloved film, the time loop he was caught up in could only be reversed once he became a better person. Yesterday is similarly focused on Jack doing the right thing by admitting he's been lying about writing the Beatles music and choosing Ellie over being a superstar but once he did so, the world didn't change - meaning the blackout wasn't contingent at all on Jack's behavior. Jack and Ellie are just a part of this magically revised world.
Indeed, Jack is further shocked throughout the film when he gradually learns that the Beatles aren't the only things erased from history: Coca-Cola, cigarettes, and even Harry Potter no longer exist in Yesterday's post-blackout timeline. However, Jack also learns, to his relief, that he's not the only one who remembers the Beatles once existed; two other Beatles fans also are aware that the world has been altered: a British woman named Liz (Sarah Lancashire) and a Russian named Leo (Justin Edwards). Perhaps even more people retain memories of how things used to be, but Yesterday's main concern is the happiness of Jack and Ellie.
What Happened To John, Paul, George, And Ringo In Yesterday's World?
The whereabouts of the Beatles are a mystery in Yesterday, with one major exception: John Lennon (Robert Carlyle) is shockingly alive! Thanks to Liz and Leo giving Jack Lennon's address, he was able to visit the founding Beatle-who-never-was at his seaside home. Amazingly, John is 78 years old and lives a quiet life in solitude; he never recorded any music or wrote any of the songs that would make him world-famous, and he was obviously never assassinated in 1980.
However, Yesterday doesn't reveal what became of Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and George Harrison. Paul and Ringo 'appear' in the film during a dream sequence where Jack is a guest on The Late Late Show with James Corden and he's horrified when the host surprises him with the two men who really wrote the famous songs. However, Paul and Ringo's faces are never seen in the film. Meanwhile, George Harrison is merely mentioned and doesn't make any kind of appearance so it's possible that he still died in 2001 in Yesterday's altered reality.
What Yesterday's Ending Really Means
Yesterday truly celebrates the timelessness of the Beatles' music and its importance to the world. Even though the band itself was never formed, through Jack performing their music, the film clearly demonstrates that people all over the world in any era are still affected by the uplifting and joyful power of the Beatles' songs. However, since those songs were created in the 1960s and 1970s, Yesterday also notes how dated many aspects of the Beatles music are; Jack's label rejects the band's classic album titles like Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band (too long and confusing) and The White Album (not racially inclusive). Indeed, the straightforward simplicity of Jack supposedly writing and performing all of the songs himself, with no sampling, no mixing, no guest vocals from modern artists like Cardi B., becomes what is so paradoxically impactful about the Beatles' music reintroduced into this reality's current pop music scene. In the end, Yesterday reaffirms that the Beatles' catalog remains among the greatest songs ever written.
For Jack and Ellie, however, the Beatles' music charts the arc of their love story in Yesterday. Ellie quietly maintained an unrequited love for Jack for twenty years, though Jack was largely oblivious to her affections. After he recovered from his accident, Jack performing "Yesterday" affected Ellie the most and, as his sudden pop music career took Jack to L.A. and away from Ellie, they both realized how much they missed the simpler times of their 'yesterday' when it was just the two of them struggling in vain to launch Jack's music career in Suffolk. After they finally get together as the couple they were meant to be, Yesterday ends with a lovely montage of Jack and Ellie marrying, raising children, and living a happy life together set to "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da". As a schoolteacher, Jack also continues to share the Beatles' music to a new generation. The message of Yesterday is simply that while the Beatles helped change the world, the true and lasting impact of their music is in how they can become the soundtrack of your life and add even deeper joy to your happiest moments.
- Yesterday (2019) release date: Jun 28, 2019