What Makes Everything Everywhere All At Once Profound To Me
Everything Everywhere All At Once is the latest film by the director-writer duo The Daniels in eight years since Swiss Army Man, their only other feature and was distributed by A24 once more. It’s also the best film of the year I have seen so far. I’m supposed to see The Northman next week, and I’m no longer looking forward to it. I want to see Everything Everywhere All At Once again instead. And I likely will. I will.
The amount of euphoria I experienced from this film is genuinely immeasurable and superb. Some say that Shakespeare’s works contain every human emotion, and I believe this film has that because I felt all the emotions while watching. I laughed, and I cried. I felt uncomfortable and spiritual. It’s an overwhelming film, and in the best way possible.
The film is about a middle-aged Chinese-American woman named Evelyn Wang running a laundromat that isn’t doing so well tax-wise. On top of that, her overbearing father, Gong Gong, has come to visit from China. Her daughter Joy tries to make space for her and her partner Becky to be open about their relationship. And unbeknownst to Evelyn, her husband is half-heartedly filing for divorce.
And on the day they are to resolve their taxes, Evelyn meets an alternate version of her husband. “Alpha-Waymond” from the alpha-verse explains that there are multiple parallel universes. And that his late wife “Alpha-Evelyn” invented a technology that allows people to “jump” into other universes via performing specific tasks such as paper cuts and — other things. I’ll leave that ambiguous. When people “jump”, their body and consciousness remain in their world, but they can now also access and control alternate versions of themselves, gaining new skills and memories. And someone called Jobu Tupaki is destroying the multiverse, and it’s up to Evelyn to stop them.
Everything Everywhere All At Once is undoubtedly the best sci-fi movie I have ever seen in my life. Not the most important sci-fi film that I have seen, though; that would be Sorry To Bother You. But still, the best damn sci-fi is the best damn sci-fi. I like that the technology isn’t over polished; Alpha-Waymond is working from a moving van in the alpha-verse with a small team of people. The presentation of technology is modest, and infinite possibilities are explored intimately. And despite that, this film is a technical marvel. Imagining how this film got made is staggering and would have required a lot of organisation. And this film has been in the works since 2010 (I’m including pre-production).
The film took a long time to make, and during its stages, the makers were disappointed over the years by the increasing use of multiverses and shared ideas in pop culture, such as Rick & Morty and Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse. And it’s a shame that the film has more or less been released at the same time as Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The film has basically made its budget back and a bit of profit, but it hasn’t been a financial success yet despite well deserved critical acclaim, and it really should be.
I would have thought that the popularity of multiverses would have helped the film’s success more, but it doesn’t seem so. And I will say that having seen the previous multiverse entertainments slightly made this film feel less original. But I want the minimalness of this problem to be stressed, though. Overall it was inconsequential for my enjoyment of the film. It had a lot more going on to make up for this, and honestly, Everything Everywhere All At Once is a whole lot better than Rick & Morty and Into the Spider-Verse (and possibly The Multiverse of Madness, too) combined.
I want to discuss how this film handles queerness because it’s accomplished well here. Joy’s story is not about coming out, this is something that has since passed, and Evelyn has made peace with the fact that her daughter is a lesbian in her flawed way. Joy is merely expressing dissatisfaction with how she and her girlfriend are “accepted” in a limited way. At the same time, their relationship is not defined by this one conflict. But instead, by a history of conflicts throughout their lives that is intergenerational. Homophobia is just one of those.
Essentially Evelyn, at the start, is established as being on the homophobic spectrum as she is dismissive of Joy’s concerns about the reception of her relationship and a little later accuses Jobu Tupaki as the reason why Joy “thinks she’s gay”. And yet, in the film, it’s subtly yet obviously unveiled that Evelyn is bisexual. This is conveyed by a parallel life where she is married to the IRS agent Deirdre in a world where everyone evolved to have hot-dog fingers. And it becomes apparent to the audience that the Evelyn we’ve mostly been following is one who just never realised this aspect about herself. And it’s even more interesting that it’s Deirdre of all people because she’s shown as a small stakes villain who is karenesque and at one point is slightly racist to Evelyn at the beginning. And the villainy rises to higher stakes as the plot thickens. Toward the end, in another world where Evelyn’s divorce is possibly going through, Deirdre opens up about her own divorce. Evelyn eventually is shown giving her physical affection telling her she deserves love having already experienced all the memories she could have had with this woman.
And this is what I love most about this film.
I think discussions about the film’s themes of nihilism, modal realism, Dadaism,absurdism and hope-is-cope-ism are needed. But the film’s thematics and style don’t come close to what I think is its biggest strength. The fact that its characters are layered and complicated is. We see all the characters in various trajectories and unfurl in spectacular ways. And this is what makes Everything Everywhere All At Once profound to me. And as such, I would like to see more in depth discussions about the characters.
It was apparent to me that The Daniels were attempting to create their own 2001: A Space Odyssey moment, as evidenced by the parodies of the Kubrick epic throughout. While 2001 was about the awe and wonder at man’s evolution and future ascendence to a higher existence from a scientific point of view, Everything Everywhere All At Once is like that but about interpersonal relationships. I hope that despite this difference, The Daniels’ film can be viewed with the same regard as 2001 and have the same cultural impact.
Lastly, I like its simple message in the masterful convolution of what-ifs and could-haves. No matter what life you could have had, you will have always been disappointed about something. It is never too late to reach your full potential now, whether it’s an art you want to pursue or being a better parent — just being a better person in general. Even if you are the worst version of yourself, that just means you have a lot of potentials; you just have to start making some decisions now.
For alternate recommendations, I suggest the Netflix series Sense8 for its similar sci-fi conscious and skill-sharing premise. And also, the classic 1995 anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion and its concluding film End of Evangelion for something that is character-psychology driven, reminiscent of 2001 and a bit more on the nihilism end of things with a more complicated relationship with hope.