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Yesterday’s Surprise Cameo Proves What The Movie Is Really About

Yesterday’s shocking cameo brings the narrative full circle. Here's why it matters, and what it says about The Beatles' cultural legacy.

Yesterday Movie Himesh Patel Jack Malik

WARNING: Spoilers ahead for Yesterday

Danny Boyle’s Yesterday depicts a world in which The Beatles never existed. However, the musical romantic comedy does spotlight one of The Fab Four’s original members: John Lennon. The surprise cameo comes at just the right time for the film’s protagonist Jack Malik, who becomes an international superstar after a strange blackout changes the course of history.

In Yesterday, Hamish Patel stars as Jack, a struggling musician who’s reached a crossroads in his life. His manager, Ellie Appleton (Lily James), provides support, but the general public doesn't seem to appreciate Jack's music. During a worldwide power outage, Jack gets hit by a bus and wakes up to find that he’s living in a Beatles-less world. He scrambles to remember the band’s song lyrics, and reinvents himself by performing classics from The Beatles’ catalogue. Since the entire world has never heard the music before, Jack is praised as a creative genius, who travels the world with tourmate Ed Sheeran and has huge crowds of adoring fans.  

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Related: Yesterday Review: Roll Up for the (Sorta) Magical Mystery Tour

Yesterday’s primary conflict focuses on Jack’s professional guilt. On a deeper level, however, the film is about Jack’s emotional journey and realization that he’s always loved the adoring Ellie, and Yesterday’s John Lennon cameo brings the narrative full circle.

John Lennon Is Alive In Yesterday's Beatles-Less World

John Lennon in Yesterday

Since The Beatles never existed in Yesterday, Lennon never participated in the “British Invasion” of America, nor did he become an iconic musical artist. Crucially, Lennon also wasn’t murdered in 1980 at the age of 40 in this fictional world. Yesterday’s big cameo features a 78-year-old Lennon, a man who accepts a strange guest at his seaside home. His appearance affects Jack in a profound way, and thematically calls back to the first act inciting incident: the bus accident.

Jack is led to Lennon by two loyal fans. For the majority of Yesterday, the characters appear as mysterious figures who may expose Jack as a fraud. However, these characters are red herrings, as they’re revealed to be true supporters who connect Jack with an artist living in the country. Yesterday's version of Lennon has a dog, and he claims to be happy. Lennon reflects upon “sailing the world” and fighting for what he believes in. Lennon even notes that he won a few battles. He wears a black beanie and appears to have the same interests as the real-life musician, only he just never became an international superstar.  

Yesterday’s Lennon literally and figuratively embraces Jack, though he’s skeptical about our protagonist's behavior. The two men don’t have an extensive conversation about life, love, and loss, but Jack does experience an epiphany when Lennon says “tell the truth to everyone you know.” Suddenly, Jack realizes that he must be honest about his music, even if the world may not necessarily understand the backstory. After all, it’s plausible that Jack, in this universe, did indeed rip off an unknown Liverpool band known as The Beatles. As for the larger picture, Lennon’s words of wisdom inspire Jack to publicly express his love for Ellie at a Wembley Stadium concert. Like a traditional romantic comedy, Yesterday's conflicted leads let their guards down and choose love.

More: Himesh Patel & Lily James Interview: Yesterday

Robert Carlyle Plays John Lennon In Yesterday

Prior to Yesterday’s release, people speculated as to whether the two surviving Beatles (Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr) would appear in the film. Following early press screenings, critics mused about who the movie version of Lennon could be, since the facial structure is shockingly similar, and the character’s overall style feels authentic as well. Yesterday’s Lennon isn’t the result of deep fake editing or CGI; the character is portrayed by 58-year-old Scottish actor Robert Carlyle.

Fans of Boyle’s films may recognize Carlyle right away. In the 1996 classic Trainspotting, the actor portrayed Francis "Franco" Begbie and reprises his role in the 2017 sequel T2 Trainspotting - Boyle's last film before Yesterday. With a feature film career dating back to 1990, Carlyle is perhaps best known for his roles in The Full Monty, The World Is Not Enough, Ravenous, and the aforementioned Trainspotting. He signed on for Yesterday after Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, approved of the scene. 

Did John End Up With Yoko In Yesterday's World?

The specifics of Lennon’s love life remain unclear in Yesterday. While discussing his pursuit of art and his passion for other interests, Lennon states that he found the woman he loves in the process. Lennon doesn't say much about his marriage beyond that, and he doesn’t identify his wife by name. Boyle seems to imply that Lennon’s core beliefs didn’t change in this alternative universe, and he doesn’t rule out that the musician ended up with his real-life wife, Yoko Ono. 

Now 86 years old, Ono is a Japanese-American artist and peace activist. She famously married Lennon in 1969, one year before The Beatles released their final album, Let It Be. Lennon and Ono lived together at The Dakota apartment building in Manhattan and protested against the Vietnam War with “bed-ins.” The two collaborated on various projects, and founded the Plastic Ono Band. In 1975, their son Sean Ono Lennon was born, and John ultimately boosted his pop culture legacy by releasing numerous solo albums throughout the '70s while publicly speaking out the American government. The 2006 documentary The U.S. vs. John Lennon details President Richard Nixon’s attempts to silence Lennon.

More: Why Yesterday’s Reviews Are So Mixed

For fans of The Beatles, Lennon’s Yesterday cameo may be controversial, simply because it's a fantasy. Many people believe that Ono essentially broke up the band, or at least contributed to its demise. And by 1980, Lennon had become so famous that just his image alone inspired thoughts of rebellion. Sadly, Mark David Chapman shot and killed Lennon outside The Dakota on December 8, 1980, a tragic act that preceded other violent encounters between deranged individuals and public figures throughout the ‘80s. In real life, Lennon pursued his creative interests and died became of his fame. In Yesterday, a fictional spin shows what might’ve happened if he'd survived.

John Lennon Proves The Real Point Of Yesterday

Himesh Patel and Lily James in Yesterday movie 2019

Yesterday celebrates The Beatles’ legacy, certainly that of Lennon. In both realities, happiness is key; a simple idea that Jack needs to accept. So, when the character literally hugs 78-year-old Lennon, he embraces The Beatles’ fundamental messages about peace, love, and happiness. Jack understands that he lost focus while bringing The Beatles’ music to the world. So, he looks inward and embraces his Suffolk roots. 

Lennon’s cameo proves the real point of Yesterday, as Jack prioritizes creative authenticity and love over public perceptions. Rather than performing The Beatles’ music for self-serving reasons, he decides to teach children and will theoretically inspire them to pursue their own creative interests. Through John Lennon, Jack is able to truly live in Yesterday; a concept that will forever be associated with The Beatles’ music.  

Next: Yesterday: Every Beatles Song In The Movie

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