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Monday, September 26, 2022

Review: Finding meaning amidst ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’

Through the exploration of infinite possibilities in a multiverse, the film reminds us that we should cherish and celebrate our finite, current lives

 

By SUN YIE — arts@theaggie.org 

 

Spoiler warning: The following article contains spoilers about the film “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”

 

A24’s latest film, “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” follows the story of Evelyn, a Chinese-American immigrant, as she struggles to navigate the complexities of American life with her family. Divided into three arcs, the film defies any traditional classification of a genre, stitching together elements of absurdism, sci-fi and fantasy to produce a narrative that is concerned with mending generational trauma and finding individual purpose in the absolute mayhem of the universe. 

The film opens with Evelyn engaged in a heated discussion with Waymond, her kind and soft-spoken husband, about Gong Gong, her father, and his arrival from China. Their conversation is conveyed mostly in Mandarin, but the flow of their dialogue is often interjected with bits of Cantonese and English vernacular, reflecting their precarious attachment to their identities as immigrants. Though Evelyn’s husband does his best to allay Evelyn’s anxieties, she seems locked in a frenzy and unable to situate herself in a stationary setting — in fact, she is quite literally everywhere at once, flitting between a desk flooded with tax receipts and other legal documents about their failing laundromat business, and the rest of the room, which is shown to be equally claustrophobic in its chaos. 

Evelyn’s pride and stubbornness prevents her from turning to Waymond or Joy, their daughter, for help, and her forced insistence that things are fine has pushed all of them to their breaking points. She remains ignorant of the pain she inflicts on others, as she harbors a deep resentment toward her husband, who she often calls “stupid,” and blames him for the failure of their laundromat business; yet, it is only through Waymond’s efforts that their family survives, although she isn’t conscious of this until much later in the film. 

Additionally, she introduces Joy’s girlfriend, Becky, as a “friend” to Gong Gong when he visits, invalidating her daughter’s sexuality and identity and rendering their already damaged relationship almost irreparable. Evelyn is too concerned with impressing Gong Gong to stop Joy from storming out, and she is then left alone to navigate her tax files with Mrs. Deirdre, her IRS auditor, without a translator. This event triggers Evelyn’s exposure to the multiverse, where she meets “Alpha” Waymond, another version of Waymond that has traveled from the “Alpha” universe to enlist her help in stopping Jobu Tupaki — the villain of the multiverse who has grown fond of hunting and murdering multiversal Evelyns. 

Given Evelyn’s proclivity of hurting the people closest to her, it comes as no surprise when the villain is revealed to be Joy or, at least, another version of Joy. Alpha Waymond teaches Evelyn to “verse jump” to help her acquire necessary combat skills from other versions of herself to defeat Jobu Tupaki. He informs her that the jump into different multiverses can only be achieved if she acts in improbable and illogical ways — she later proves to be quite adept at this, as she snorts houseflies and even pees herself during her confrontations with Jobu Tupaki and her henchmen. 

“Everything Everywhere All at Once” seems to have fun playing around with the concept of infinite possibilities existing through a multiverse, as this is where the elements of absurdism, sci-fi, fantasy and even pop culture references intersect; for instance, Evelyn travels to one universe where she is a chef and her coworker is controlled by a raccoon, because she confuses “Ratatouille” for “Raccacoonie.” There are other universes in which Evelyn and Joy fight as two-dimensional scribbles, glutinous blobs, styrofoam puppets and even rocks with googly eyes — truly, these artistic decisions reflect the limitless possibilities of storytelling in itself.

The film’s multiverse exists between the boundlessness of imagination and liminal spaces, and suggests that even though people might appear to live in stasis, as Evelyn does with her failing laundromat business, there is that much more room for their unfulfilled potential — they’re presented with bottomless possibilities of who they could be. Alpha Waymond relays this wholesome message to Evelyn, who at first doubts her ability with a comedic twist: “Every rejection, every disappointment has prepared you for this moment. You’re the worst Evelyn, but that’s why you’re the key to saving reality.” 

The culmination of all of these different elements produce a pandemonium, making the film’s overall message a little difficult to follow, although I wonder if this was a deliberate artistic choice as well — perhaps the directors, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, had intended for the audience to find their own meaning within the chaos of this film, as the characters do in its closing scenes.

In Joy and Evelyn’s last confrontation, they have exhausted themselves from fighting, and Joy has been reduced to her original self, although the effects of Jobu Tupaki’s influence still linger within her. She is left with the nihilistic belief that nothing matters, because the universe is so large and humans are such an insignificant part of it, but Evelyn counters: “Since nothing matters, the only thing that can matter is the choice you make.” 

Within their last confrontation, the two also nod to the possibility of leaving the movie’s interpretation in their audience’s hands. Joy laments, “Here, all we get are a few specks of time where anything actually makes sense,” to which Evelyn then replies, “Then I will cherish those few specks of time,” emphasizing the importance of choosing to find value in the present moment and redefining what it means to be human. 

 

Written by: Sun Yie — arts@theaggie.org

 

 

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