"Everything, Everywhere, All at Once" won the Academy Award for Best Picture this past Sunday, Mar. 12, 2023. This is among the latest in a string of critical awards: so much so that the full list of accolades received by "Everything, Everywhere, All at Once", has its own Wikipedia page, separate from the page for the film itself. It left the Oscars with seven awards, and an additional three nominations. As of the time of writing, it has received 264 total awards, and over 400 nominations.
To try and summarize "Everything, Everywhere, All at Once" is almost impossible: there are at least a dozen separate plot threads, and the film swaps universes constantly. The central plot: of stopping the destruction of the universe by Jobu Tupaki, constantly takes a backseat to other plots: Evelyn and Waymond’s struggling marriage, Evelyn and Joy’s strained mother-daughter relationship, the multiverse concept that leaves viewers more confused than satisfied. Quite a few of my friends who have watched it sat through the first half with more questions than comments.
That doesn’t mean I’m not going to try - the core of the film is the Wang family, consisting of Evelyn, her husband Waymond, her daughter Joy, and her father, only referred to as “Gong gong” (Cantonese for ‘grandfather’). The family owns a laundromat, which is being audited by the IRS. Supporting characters include Deirdre Beaubeirdre, the IRS auditor in charge of the Wangs’ audit, and Becky, Joy’s girlfriend.
It’s revealed to the audience early that Jobu Tupaki, the villain Evelyn is supposed to destroy, is an alternative universe version of Joy, who had been pressured into ‘verse-jumping’ so much that it splintered her mind throughout the multiverse, making her experience everything, be everywhere, and be forced to see everything all at once.
It is also revealed that, though interpreted as a multiverse-destroying menace, Jobu Tupaki doesn’t really want to destroy the multiverse: she wants to destroy herself. Since she is splintered across the multiverse, she’s incapable of dying, and she desperately wants to.
As part of her plan, Jobu created the “Everything Bagel”, a bagel with quite literally everything in the multiverse on it, which became so dense it collapsed into a sort of black hole. Her entire plan is to find a version of her mother who sees things the way she does, and die with her.
Jobu/Joy, from her experiences, has become a nihilist. Joy’s nihilism is a destructive sort: If nothing in life matters, and we are all just waiting to die, why not just do whatever you want to do? Why keep trying to thrive? She’s desperate for someone to reinforce this belief. To become just as self destructive as her.
And this version of her mother does, for a while. Evelyn, after seeing the bagel, has an existential crisis and comes to the conclusion that Joy is right. That maintaining relationships, goals, and living has no purpose. But Evelyn is challenged almost immediately: Waymond is a deep existentialist and humanist. He believes that, above all, why shouldn’t we be kind to each other? He begs Evelyn to change her mind, and, quite quickly, she does. She uses this newfound philosophy to save her daughter.
In a world full of overwhelming, terrifying, complicated things, what is the point of it all? Why should we bother with anything? "Everything, Everywhere, All at Once" says that the point of it all is love. Not romantic love, but the simple love we have for each other. Love that causes kindness and joy.
I’ve never been much of a pessimist. I see people my age full of pessimistic nihilism, and my heart aches for them. I don’t believe in a lot of the common “edgy truths''. In our neoliberal, hyper capitalist hellscape, it's easy to believe that nothing matters, and that there’s no point to your actions.
And I do buy that, to an extent. Climate change can’t be solved by banning plastic straws, or by bringing your own coffee cup to the local Starbucks. Individual actions can’t solve huge crises like that. To believe you can is sold to you by the neoliberal capitalist fairytale.
But in other ways, I don’t. My actions can’t solve climate change, or solve the student loan crisis, or fix the housing crisis. But I can make someone’s day just a little bit better. I can fix the neighbors mailbox. I can mow someone’s lawn. I can spend an afternoon with someone lonely. I do believe I’m a nihilist. I don’t think there’s an inherent meaning to life. I’m not religious in the traditional sense, so I don’t believe purpose comes from a higher power. But I love people too much to be a pessimistic one. Some people suck. But collectively, as a whole, the things people do for each other are awe-inspiring. There’s no other word for that than love.
As Waymond says, “The only thing I do know is that we have to be kind. Please, be kind. Especially when we don't know what's going on."
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