Viewing almost eight hours of the Beatles’ “Get Back” documentary, about the making of the “Let it Be” album, can resemble a lengthy holiday with family. For some, you wish it would go on forever, like “Strawberry Fields.” For others, the time felt overextended and maybe a little awkward when disagreements festered, making you want to shout “Help!”

The Beatles related almost as siblings (who I study in my work at the University of Maryland) would after the death of a parent; longtime manager and patriarchal figure Brian Epstein had died 16 months prior to the 1969 filming.

When parents die, siblings are usually in adulthood and have formed intimate relationships with others (John Lennon with Yoko Ono and Paul McCartney with Linda Eastman). Without their parents, they must figure out how to work together to manage the family going forward.

University of Maryland School of Social Work professor Michael Woolley and I have found through our research that there is often great affection between siblings in adulthood. Siblings often described their brother or sister as their best friend, as someone they could trust and someone they have grown closer to over time.

At the same time, mixed feelings toward each other were common. Brothers and sisters described the ups and downs of their relationship over the years as their siblings married, had children or moved away. A new spouse inevitably causes a shift in the timbre of a family, sometimes bringing siblings closer and other times pulling them away from each other. The different successes and monetary situations of siblings in adulthood can enhance or erode a relationship if the toll of taking care of aging parents is not evenly divided.

Finally, sibling relationships can be ambiguous. Brothers and sisters may not understand each other’s behavior toward parents, their children and each other. Why did a sister choose her spouse? Why is a brother estranged from the family? How could a sibling be close to a parent who was toxic for many years?


While the Beatles were a group of four in total sync at their best, subgroups formed as they often do in families. Dyads (Paul McCartney and John Lennon co-creating) and triads (Paul, John and Ringo Starr after George Harrison quits the group for a short period) emerged as various Beatles and significant others (e.g., Ono and Eastman) paired off and squared off.

All of these components of relationships appear in “Get Back,” just as they will for many during this holiday season.

The affection is palpable in the jamming and wondrous song creation we witness and in the way the members fit into each other like old shoes. Yet ambivalence can be seen when Paul wonders if he is being annoying and pushing the band too much and George says he will withdraw from playing on a song if that is what Paul wants. Ono and Eastman, the “in-laws,” can be seen as intruders in the siblings’ relationships. Separation and loss are also palpable as they wonder about their continued attachment to each other. George’s withdrawal from the group, purportedly for having some of his songs displaced, is not immediately understood. Feelings are hurt between the brothers/the Beatles just as they often are in a family.

Ultimately, and not forever, the band comes back together to pull off a rooftop concert, perhaps a metaphor for how families come together when they must to take care of each other. The ambivalence between some of the members would turn into outright animosity until their later years. They might have reunited had that opportunity not been tragically cut short with John’s death. We never will have a chance to see how the story might have ended.

In families there is often a future that can be wrapped, like a present, in affection as long as family members accept that few sibling groups have unfettered relationships. And if there has been a rift, a reconciliation is always possible — if not for the current generation, then for future ones, as all the Beatles’ families joined together for the “Get Back” film.

Families can learn to “come together, right now” as they let certain things be.