Arts and Entertainment

“Everything Everywhere All At Once” Finds Meaning in the Multiverse

“Everything Everywhere All at Once” instills fast-paced, cleverly controlled chaos in its plot, but when the wacky fun fades, a portrayal of extraordinary emotional complexity is revealed.

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“Everything Everywhere All at Once,” released in April 2022, received vast praise from critics for its playful comedy and engrossing plot. The film allows the audience to project themselves into the fantasy of leading different lives, exploring the ideas that an infinite number of decisions shape one’s life and that one should learn to appreciate the beauty of the “mundane” version of themself. “Everything Everywhere All at Once” instills fast-paced, cleverly controlled chaos in its plot, but when the wacky fun fades, a portrayal of extraordinary emotional complexity is revealed.

The film opens with dowdy, miserable, middle-aged Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh), who is reaching a crisis point in several aspects of her life. She is drowning under the stress of her family’s failing laundromat, her marriage to Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), and the disapproval of her elderly father (James Hong). However, it is the widening gulf between Evelyn and her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) that threatens to unravel the fabric of existence as she learns that she’s just one in a vast multiverse of Evelyns, and the only one who can save it. The film explores the dynamics of complex familial bonds within an Asian family, as even before the idea of the multiverse is introduced to the family, their lives already inhabit separate worlds. They ignore each other, with each member of the family becoming frustrated due to feelings of general unappreciation: Waymond is looking for divorce while Joy challenges the grotesquely high expectations Evelyn has set for her, highlighting the generational divide between herself and Evelyn with her confident identity as a lesbian.

Despite the arguably overused trope of familial chaos, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” remains a definite product of its time with its portrayal of the multiverse. It explores the modern dangers of the internet by highlighting the escapism of the multiverse and its endless potential. It also investigates the idea of multiple parallel universes spinning in synchronicity and the possibility of alternate, seemingly better versions of ourselves. Especially during a time when a pandemic, wars, and political cruelty have become inevitable presences in our daily lives, the multiverse represents the ultimate fantasy, explaining why it has also been seen in recent films like “Spiderman: No Way Home” (2021) and “Space Jam: A New Legacy” (2021).

Evelyn is first introduced to the concept of the multiverse after being confronted at the IRS by Alpha Waymond, her husband’s confident, kung-fu fighting doppelgänger. Alpha Waymond claims to be from the “Alpha-Verse,” the cream of the crop in the multiverse. He is searching for this dimension’s version of Evelyn to help stop the evil Alpha-Verse version of Joy, named Jobu Tupaki, from destroying every universe. Always dressed and ready for a wild party, Tupaki rampages through different dimensions as her power to experience every one of her multidimensional identities all at once slowly drives her insane.

The residents of the Alpha-Verse know the most about the multiverse, its rules, and how to tap into each one of its dimensions because they are the first to have discovered its existence. Notably, the Alpha-Verse was the first to develop technology to track the direction of the other universes, as well as the ability to mentally tap into the other dimensions of the multiverse using “verse-jumping,” which is the ability to tap into a doppelgänger’s consciousness from a parallel universe and take control of their mind for a short time without the other dimensional-counterpart noticing. However, this is not an easy task, as the Alpha-Verse technology must calculate precisely what is needed for the jump; usually, the verse-jumper is required to do something fairly weird and ridiculous to accomplish it.

It is with this verse-jumping that “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is able to seamlessly shift from a family drama to an absurdist action-comedy. Using verse-jumping technology, Evelyn finds herself adopting the skills of parallel universe versions of herself, such as the abilities to fight with fanny-pack nunchucks and play the piano with her feet, while exploring multiverses where she has hotdog fingers and is a movie star. Playing many different roles as Evelyn in every multiverse, Michelle Yeoh perfectly explores the use of physical comedy through bizarre tasks needed for verse-jumping like eating ChapStick under a cubicle or voicing a legitimate rock during her time in a prehistoric dimension. For decades, Yeoh has been mesmerizing in movies, including “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000) and “Crazy Rich Asians” (2018). Here, she does it all, shouldering the rage in a domestic drama, the grace in a martial arts epic, and the splendid silliness of a ludicrous comedy.

Impressive acting aside, the physical shifts as the protagonists jump from universe to universe would not be possible without the VFX work of visual effects artist Zak Stoltz. The visual effect of verse-jumping was created with Yeoh sitting in her office chair, which was in a wheelbarrow. Then they pushed her backward very slowly, shooting in real-time, cranking the shutter on the camera open and using a leaf blower to whip her hair back and forth. In the post, everything is sped up again, making for a chaotic scene as she goes back into a closet, and into a mysterious universe. Thanks to the mix of practical and VFX elements in every scene in the movie, the actors react to real things like physical sign-spinners who turn into sign-ninjas, grounding the performance and movie.

The utilization of the central “metaverse” mechanics perfectly aligns with an emotional, meaningful plot arc to ground “Everything Everywhere All at Once” among the visual chaos of the film. The film attacks the “floating rock” mentality of how technically meaningless a human’s impact on their own reality is in the grand scheme of things. Through traversing the multiverses, Evelyn comes to understand that life is simply a culmination of small joys, a theme illustrated by her love for her daughter. The film ultimately emphasizes loving the people and things around you and focusing on things that make you happy rather than everything that does not. Everyone will indeed become meaningless space dust, so why not enjoy the ride?