Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022)
Written & Directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
Your life is all you know. We might imagine other possibilities, whether looking back in regret or curiosity about past choices, or contemplating what the future might hold. But, regardless of all of this, we only exist in the present, in now. We can’t ever go back and change things, and the future is eternally unattainable as it inevitably becomes now. Lately, the Multiverse has become a concept in the zeitgeist, made possible by numerous films touching on it. In their latest film, the duo known as Daniels have constructed a story that embraces this cosmic, near-incomprehensible concept’s fantastic and highly human aspects.
Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) immigrated from China to the United States decades ago, and the dreams she believed would come true simply didn’t. She runs a laundromat with her doting, loving husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan). Her ailing father (James Hong) has come from China, so she can care for him. Her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) tries to get her mother to accept her girlfriend. The biggest worry for Evelyn is that she and the business are audited by the IRS. On her way to a meeting with their agent, Deidre (Jamie Lee Curtis), Waymond’s body is overtaken by a variant from the Multiverse for a few minutes. A dark cosmic entity is tearing its way through the Multiverse, and Evelyn is needed to stop it. She starts to follow the strange directions she’s given, and suddenly everything she thought she knew about the fabric of reality falls away.
I can’t say I fell in love as profoundly with Everything Everywhere All At Once (EEAO) in the same way I’ve seen others across social media. That makes sense as a big part of this movie is about the experiences of immigrants and their children. Where I was able to find an emotional connection with the film is through the marriage subplot. If anything brought tears to my eyes, it was the magnificent scenes between Yeoh and Quan. Daniels does such an excellent job through their science fiction premise of showing how hard marriage can be, the peaks and valleys, and how essential tenderness and a balance of personalities are. When we meet Evelyn and Waymond, they are on the precipice of divorce.
This dynamic touches on an annoyance I’ve had with popular cinema that claims to be “feminist” in recent years. When you look at movies like Wonder Woman and similar types where women are action leads, it is hailed because the women partake in violence to the same degree as men. I certainly understand the thrill of seeing women on the screen playing action roles. Fury Road was absolutely fantastic. However, I think this creates justification for toxic masculinity filtered through female actors. I don’t believe violence is blanket evil; it is necessary for certain circumstances, without a doubt. But I do love how, in this film, Evelyn gets so caught up in fighting to a destructive degree that it takes Waymond to pull her back to showing love, to not seeing everyone she encounters as an enemy but also another scared & terrified human being,
Going back to having some difficulty connecting with the film, I don’t see that as the picture’s fault in any way. In fact, it’s because of my Western upbringing that I just don’t subconsciously connect with Southeast Asian thought as smoothly as I would like. The film is a Southeast Asian film, recontextualizing symbols from outside of their culture and part of ours to share meaning. This is seen in the googly eyes and everything bagel. They are stand-ins for the yin and yang concepts. But these two things also exist in opposition to each other. The bagel is a void, consuming all it comes in contact with to achieve a balance of nothingness. The googly eyes contain the same aspects but present themselves differently. Nothingness is akin to silliness. When nothing is seriously important, we can be silly and full of joy.
Strains of Buddhism are powerfully prevalent. Going back to that bagel, we learn that it converts the meaning of all possibilities to nothingness. Nothing we experience or imagine can mean anything ultimately. We’re destroyed and left hollow. But in nothingness is profound freedom. If nothing matters, then whatever you love and cherish matters. There is no cosmic force tagging things with value. It is humanity, especially institutions, that seek to label and, therefore, create dissonance with how things should be. Daniels communicates this idea so perfectly in a clear, digestible manner, but I think it’s easy for Western audiences to completely miss it. We are so attuned to some of the worst ideologies tagged to capitalism and hyper-individualism that our synapses just don’t see what is there.
EEAO is a movie that outsiders from this ideology will most connect with. My wife grew up in Puerto Rico and saw a lot of her own experiences with her mother and being someone caught between two cultures. I love that this movie spoke to her in a way, so few have, and it brings me happiness that so many other people are experiencing the same thing. It’s also another piece by Daniels that showcases their ability to present obscure, strange concepts in a palatable manner for mainstream audiences, something we need more of.