Everything Everywhere All At Once
Earlier in 2022, Screen Junkies Honest Trailers joked that Everything Everywhere All At Once was a better multiverse movie than Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. While I bill myself as a supporter of the MCU, that wasn't a joke. It was a correct statement. In an age of multiple shared cinematic universes, a small indie film wound up being one of the best movies of the year, with so much to tell. That movie was A24's Everything Everywhere All At Once.
There is plenty to unpack regarding a universe-spanning movie like Everything Everywhere All At Once. There is plenty of cosmic mystery and rip-roaring action. There is an incredible degree of newness as the movie focuses on a family that spans entire universes. There's also plenty of humor between a universe of hotdog-tipped humans and a rage-filled IRS agent. There's plenty to interpret, but at its core is a central theme: Anything you care about, no matter how small, is worth the entire multiverse.
For those unfamiliar, Everything Everywhere All At Once puts audiences into the average world of Evelyn Quan Wang (Michelle Yeoh), married to Waymond Wang (Ke Huy Quan), who own and operate a laundromat business. They have a daughter and name her Joy (Stephanie Hsu). The family tries to stay together, between the day-to-day struggles of operating a laundromat and Joy hoping for her family to accept her non-Chinese girlfriend, Becky.
The business is being audited by the IRS, and the family makes an arduous journey to the local federal offices. While being pressed by a malevolent auditor Dierdre (Jamie-Lee Curtis), strange occurrences start happening. Waymond behaves differently and, in a moment of privacy, reveals himself to be Alpha-Waymond from another universe. He is momentarily using present-day Waymond to communicate directly with Evelyn.
Alpha Wong is revealed to be communicating to Evelyn from the Alpha-verse, one of a near-infinite amount of universes. In another universe, Evelyn creates verse-jumping technology, the ability to access bodies, skills, and memories of parallel-universe selves through strange actions and a special device. A paralyzing evil is trekking across the multiverse, seeking out Evelyn with the intent of destroying all of existence. The evil, known as Jobu Tupaki, has inherited Alpha-Joy and is verse jumping to find Evelyn. The weight of entire universes rests on Evelyn's shoulders. Every failure, disappointment, and rejection in her life has led her to this moment.
To embody and explain everything regarding Everything Everywhere All At Once is to fill YouTube with thousands of film essays. The themes and underpinnings of the movies could arguably be used in a thesis or dissertation. The movie is an array of visual comedy, cosmic imagination, and an original take on the multiverse, which is a breath of fresh air considering the various shared universes encountered today.
After a strong first and second act, things look dire and hopeless in the final act. Keeping things as spoiler free as possible, Evelyn succumbs to the hopelessness and despair of her existence. Even in other universes, where she is an actress, a fighter, and many other things, she begins to accept what the antagonist believes in. What is the damn point of it all? At one point, her mind literally fractures as the weight of such thoughts became far too great. Evelyn embraces nihilism and begins to bring hurt to others around her. That hurt is not just in the present universe but in every universe.
Evelyn begins to accept there simply isn't a point to her continued existence. She'll continue to struggle and make mistakes. There will always be choices that she wishes she made that could have led her down a more successful but still empty path. Every choice feels as if it'll never make an impact. Evelyn believes that she is doomed to a lack of meaning and eternal failure. Evelyn even comes to a belief that falling through with the destruction of every universe is the best option. She is convinced her own annihilation is necessary.
Something miraculous happens in this final act. In the middle of the cosmic calamity, Waymond encourages everyone to stop fighting; to try and be nice to everyone. He pleads with everyone that there is far more to life than fighting. In this moment, Evelyn observes the one silliest thing that Waymond once did, and that is using googly eyes to make her happy. Evelyn believes in this one simple, fruitful act.
In the grand scheme of everything happening across every universe, it is an infinitesimal moment. However, that moment breaks through to Evelyn like a meteor through a mountain. She's reminded of how important this small act was to her and how it made her feel. She is then motivated not to give in to annihilation but instead embrace the warmth that other humans are capable of sharing. In each other universes, Evelyn begins believing in not herself but the joy that is worth living for.
Evelyn begins to accept a new meaning to the universe at large, and that is fulfillment. Evelyn begins to see the googly eyes in various universes, all to make others happy. She begins to repair damage and help others in various universes. In this moment of realization, Evelyn experiences that a small gesture of kindness leads to love. In a universe with no meaning, she creates meaning. In a multiverse without purpose, she creates a purpose. This one small gesture begins to save entire universes. What happens next is something that you, the reader, need to experience for yourself. Trust me, it's worth it.
Everything Everywhere All At Once has a lot of lessons and themes, but this was the strongest one. Finding purpose and meaning, even if that thing isn't the grandest thing, can make a universal difference in oneself. Perhaps that care can make a world of difference in others as well. There was a time years ago when my best friend was going through a death in the family. As we talked over dinner, he said to me, "One of the reasons I loved hanging with you, man, is that you are so enthusiastic about video games. it radiates off of you, and I feel that, and then I feel that excitement too." The smallest of things can have the greatest meaning and importance.
It can be hard to care about things these days. In fact, the world can outright discourage it. Humans have the ability to adopt cynicism and nihilism as coping mechanics, which can turn into more overwhelmingly destructive traits. The last two years alone have seen cities on fire, baby formula running out, a gallon of milk costing more than a burger, and hatred storming the streets. It's easy to see any effort to do right and do good as nothing more than a raindrop falling into an ocean.
Whether Veteran or civilian, the same feeling of emptiness can go to anyone. People work hard for goals and dreams that go unfulfilled. For returning Veterans adjusting to civilian life, that daily fulfillment often found in the service is difficult to replace. There is something incredibly strong in this universe that we live in, and it's something noted in Everything Everywhere All At Once. The world we live in is always in constant change, like water flowing from a mountain to a river to the sea. There is no formula for success. Now is the time to make and create your own meaning and purpose.
What that is is entirely your discretion. Chances are you are reading this and have just gotten out of military service. Maybe you are a civilian looking for that next big thing to rally behind in life. you probably graduated college and have deduced that two years since graduation, you should have studied something else. The time is now to create that purpose and meaningfulness, no matter how small or strange it can become.
Video games are a great universe to get started in.
Everything Everywhere All At Once is now out on Digital and Blu Ray.