Everything Everywhere All At Once: A cinematic masterpiece that finds beauty in ordinary things

The film shows that creating a multiverse doesn’t require sky-high VFX budgets, star cameos and huge sets. All one needs are a laundromat, an IRS office and the conviction to tell a story on human struggle.

Deepansh Duggal September 19, 2022 09:41:29 IST
Everything Everywhere All At Once: A cinematic masterpiece that finds beauty in ordinary things

Everything Everywhere All At Once

Seldom does a film leave a writer wondering which of its many intriguing themes and plot points should be addressed first. In a film like Everything Everywhere All At Once, where no detail is unnecessary and every subplot serves a purpose, there are many things worth addressing, dissecting and then analysing. Maybe one could start from the two rocks having an existential conversation and sharing an emotional moment at a cliff with their thoughts appearing as written text – or the entire existence of multiple universes put on a Bagel resembling a Black Hole. Perhaps, one can address the outlandish outfits, the chef in a distant universe who is being secretly puppeteered by a raccoon and of course, men sticking objects in their butts to jump from one universe to another. It would be a cardinal sin if one doesn’t mention the universe where folks play piano with their feet because their fingers are literal hot dogs.

The Daniels have shown that creating a multiverse doesn’t require sky-rocketing VFX budgets, star cameos and huge sets. All one needs is a laundromat, an IRS office and the conviction to tell a story on human struggle. Everything Everywhere All At Once seems to deal with a human predicament that all of us have come to know too well in the Digital Age – finding the meaning and purpose of life.

Joy’s existential crisis and Evelyn’s ‘Hope’

“Nothing really matters. We’re all crap anyway,” says Jobu Tupaki/Joy to her mother Evelyn, both of whom are rocks at a cliff. She then urges her mother, Evelyn, to walk into the black-hole shaped Bagel of nothingness and end their lives because, well, life is meaningless and nothing matters. Evelyn, a Chinese immigrant in the US who runs a laundromat which is being audited for tax fraud, who also has a daughter who is struggling with her sexuality and a husband who is ready to serve her divorce papers, is convinced that her daughter Joy’s beliefs are true – that everything is worthless, after all. She almost walks into the Bagel till one act of kindness from her estranged husband and subsequently, the IRS officer changes her mind. Her husband, Waymond, reminds her that he chooses to see the good in people as a survival strategy and that, in another lifetime, “he would love to do taxes and laundry with you [Evelyn].”

Evelyn, perhaps realizes at this point that like her, Waymond too, has struggled all his life and has made a conscious choice to be kind to people and continue living for the small moments that bring him joy. What she thought came naturally to Waymond was his survival strategy – he has no choice but to go on living while seeing the good in people and striving for hope.

Evelyn refuses to walk into the Bagel and tries rather hard to convince Joy to stay. The whole scene can be read as a scenario of a depressed and borderline suicidal individual (in this case, Jobu Tupaki/Joy, Evelyn’s daughter) who has given up on life and decided to end it (by walking into a Bagel) until a special someone (in this case, Evelyn) gives her hope that life is worth living for the small moments of joy we get to experience in the middle of all the madness. As someone who has struggled with mental health, I was happy that the Daniels did not show a magical transformation in Joy because, well, feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness do not just go away magically after a single life-altering conversation – even if it is as impactful as the one Evelyn and Joy had. Joy walks into the Bagel and Evelyn makes peace with it, reluctantly so. Joy does return, however and goes on to live a somewhat normal life after her grandfather accepts her sexuality. What made Joy return from the Bagel? Was it Evelyn’s love and her grandfather’s acceptance that made her come back?

In one of the scenes, Joy tells Evelyn, “I was hoping you would see something I didn’t…that you would convince me there was another way.” Maybe Joy returned because Evelyn convinced her that there is another way – to find happiness in small moments like a family Chinese New Year party and a kiss from Becky while walking into the IRS office.

Seeing The Extraordinary in Ordinary
Another accomplishment of the film is that it manages to see beauty in the ordinary. When Alpha Waymond tells Evelyn that she is the only one out of all the Evelyns that exist in the multiverse – including the Evelyn who is a Kung-Fu artist, a popular movie star and a chef with combat skills – it is she who can save mankind, she is taken aback. “Me? But why me?” she asks Waymond. Evelyn is aware that there is nothing special about her – no skill she could monetize or use for a purpose. Waymond reminds Evelyn that since she is average and not particularly good at anything, she has immense untapped potential that can be used to save the multiverse from an evil threat. The film goes on to show the same Evelyn fighting Gong Gong’s minions and successfully saving mankind and her daughter, Joy who had lost her will to live. The film shows that being strictly average and not particularly good at anything is indeed a superpower. Everything Everywhere All At Once seeks beauty in things which are mundane, ordinary and commonplace and that, perhaps, is the film’s biggest win.

Mental health experts sound off
Since the film is being interpreted by many as the story of a girl who overcomes depression, we reached out to some mental health experts to know their thoughts on how they choose to deal with clients who struggle with existential thoughts. Charlotte Fox Weber, Psychotherapist and author of the book What We Want, says that if someone is struggling with existential crisis, one shouldn’t be overtly jolly or try to dissuade them from their feelings of hopelessness. “Once I am with my client, however, I do try to nudge – just to consider if there’s a crack for lightness – space for creative expression. I think that when life feels meaningless, there’s a lot of pleasure that’s possible.” Ambika Chawla, Clinical Psychologist, Lissun believes lack of love and care could be the root cause of such thoughts. “Lack of love can make one detached and distant from others which leads to a feeling of worthlessness.”

However, there is meaning to make out of life, says Weber. “There may be no point to our existence but we can still get plenty out of being alive. We don’t need to find meaning to live meaningfully. Meaning is something we can make, rather than find,” she concludes.

Everything Everywhere All At Once is playing in cinemas.

Deepansh Duggal is an entertainment, pop-culture and trends writer based in New Delhi. He specializes in op-eds based on the socio-political and gender issues in the world of entertainment and showbiz. He also writes explainers and occasionally reviews shows in the OTT space. He tweets at @Deepansh75. 

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