To acquire wisdom, one must observe

‘Everything, Everywhere, All at Once:’ a multiverse of meaning

From “Rick and Morty” and “Into the Spider-Verse” to upcoming blockbusters like “Multiverse of Madness” and the “Flash” movie, the concept of traversing parallel universes is currently experiencing a cultural renaissance, and it is no great stretch of the imagination to see why. It’s fun to cast off from the hum-drum wasteland of our known world to see what interesting ways our boring old reality could be twisted if only a few things were tweaked. In a world where progress is a stuttering trudge through hot mud, and our futures seem more dubious with each passing headline, it’s a relief to imagine yourself somewhere, anywhere, markedly different. However, while we seek escape in realms of possibility, the prospect of infinite other universes can be terrifying as well. If there are infinite “yous” out there in the aether, then there are infinite versions of you who are doing far better in their lives, who have accomplished great things and experienced greater happiness. Obviously, people don’t hunker down in theaters for two hours to be told they are infinitesimal cosmic failures, so most movies that toy with parallel universes stick to the shtick of wacky dimensional clones and trippy alternate futures. But “Everything, Everywhere, All at Once” wades into that technicolor philosophical mire. It dances knee deep in it, joyously kicking up sprays of nihilism and existential crises into theatergoers’ faces before waltzing out with heartwarming hope and scintillating absurdism. 

Directed by the duo of directors known coyly as “Daniels,” “Everything, Everywhere, All at Once” chronicles the reality-spanning epic of Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh), the downtrodden, unfulfilled owner of a failing laundromat. Juggling her wilting relationship with her sensitive goofball husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), her fraught relationship with her rebellious daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) and her demanding relationship with her perpetually disappointed father Gong Gong (James Hong), Evelyn is forced to visit the IRS to save her struggling business. And if all of that wasn’t stressful enough, it turns out Evelyn is the chosen one, an alternate version of her husband explaining to her that, due to her plethora of discarded dreams and missed opportunities, she has access to the skills of all of her vastly more successful counterparts across the multiverse. Whether it be kungfu mastery, sign twirling moves or opera singing, all Evelyn needs to do to access her alternate abilities is do something hilariously random to slingshot her consciousness across all possibility and improbability. And she will need all the skills she can steal, as she alone can halt the invasion of the mysterious Jobu Tupaki, a multiversal conqueror who wants to hunt down Evelyn one reality at a time. We watch as Evelyn fights her way through the IRS building, defeating Jobu Tupaki’s minions one strange and farcical vignette at a time, all the while grappling with her own lapsed potential and nihilistic insignificance in the grand scheme of the multiverse. It is an admittedly insane premise, compounding complex interdimensional lore and somber ruminations on fulfillment and meaning with a deluge of gut-bustingly random asides of acid-baked creativity. 

Nowhere else will you get to witness a prolonged fight scene where buttplugs are used as threatening power-ups or a purse dog is used as a flail. It’s rare to see otherwise one-off joke tangents, like glimpses into realities where people have sausages for fingers or where a teppanyaki chef is controlled by a raccoon, brought together for intense emotional impact at the climax. But that is what sets this film apart. It relishes in its own spontaneity but never surrenders to it, using its randomness to both entertain and prove a point: that life is random, disappointing and oppressive, but to give up on life, to surrender to nihilism and hopelessness is both too easy and too harsh. We must embrace our lives, in all of their madness and imperfection, if we wish to find beauty in them, and we must see ourselves for who we are rather than what we could be if we wish to truly understand our own happiness. Appreciate what you have, the grass is always greener, hope springs eternal, blah and blah. It’s nothing new, but “Everything, Everywhere, All at Once” repackages these concepts in a way that feels more honest than ever before. This film understands that living in a breakneck, comically indifferent, oppressive world leaves most of us unhappy and so presents a story about unhappy people shot in a stylistically oppressive manner, filled with comically indifferent spontaneous jokes and which flows at the glorious breakneck speed of a bullet train. It’s a work of madness that works maddeningly well and that hits closer to home than most other self-serious pictures ever could. 

“Everything, Everywhere, All at Once” has more than earnest messaging pumping through its veins. As previously stated, it’s a stylistic marvel: kaleidoscopically dazzling scenes, wrapped in an iron-clad sound wall of music and topped with a bow of fantastically choreographed action sequences. This film is a comedic masterpiece, as well, helped by its exquisite cast who can all seemingly flip from tear-pulling sincerity to excruciating hilarity at the drop of a hat. The only pseudo-fault this movie possesses is its climax, which is seemingly 20 straight minutes of universe hopping and existential jaw flapping at the tail end of the story. Not that it is a bad climax. It’s a perfect one, but it was so unrelenting and unbroken that, while I enjoyed its content, I could feel my brain beginning to deflate from exhaustion and sugar rot. Ultimately, I’m just happy I got to see this beautiful fever dream of a film, especially considering that there are infinite other versions of me out there in the multiverse who didn’t have the same privilege. What a bunch of sad saps those schmucks are.

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