The latest film from directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, who we know from Swiss Army Man (2016), Everything Everywhere All At Once, has been rapidly moving towards becoming one of the cult films of the 2020s since its first day of release. The film, distributed by A24, one of the leading production and distribution companies in American independent cinema, follows the adventure of a Chinese immigrant woman who has been living her life operating a laundromat for many years as she discovers alternate lives and other universes that are connected to her, and she must save the world alone.
Introduction: A Fast-Paced, Philosophical Film on Multiple Universes
Everything Everywhere All At Once, which is built on the highly clichéd narrative of multiple universes, sets itself apart from others with its chaotic and fast-paced cinematic language, absurdity, and philosophical subtext, making it unique. In fact, the film uses the multiple universes/parallel universes theme that mainstream cinema loves so much as a means to tell the transformation story of a tough, depressed woman who is struggling with financial problems and issues with her daughter.
Absurdity and Philosophy in a Wild and Uncertain World
The many events that befall the main character Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) and her family want to tell us something about the meaning of life. Although we are accustomed to philosophical issues such as the search for meaning in Arthouse cinema being slowly developed through scenes that leave room for thought, Everything Everywhere All At Once breaks this formula and offers us a fast-paced cinema example filled with constantly multiplying scenes that leave us with no breathing space. Another one of the film’s unique aspects is the fact that all issues related to life and the individual are told within a world that is wild and full of uncertainty instead of a serious and consistent world. By keeping the absurdity level so high, drawing from many clichés, and making their characters do unexpected things, the directors give a message to modern-day people who are constantly trying to keep up with everything: “Relax and enjoy life a little”.
Throughout its 140-minute runtime, the film blends numerous genres together, makes references to many cult classics, and tries to tell everything at once just like its title, bombarding the viewer with a visual and emotional onslaught. While this can make it difficult to follow and even exhausting at times, the film’s creativity and originality become undeniable in every scene. Everything Everywhere All At Once starts as a high-action sci-fi adventure movie in the first half, but in the second half, it reveals its philosophical side and begins to question if there is any meaningful purpose to our existence in this vast universe. While doing so, it wants to give us a strong message: even if you are your worst version, create your own meaning!
Discovering the Worst Version of Herself and the Need to Create One’s Own Meaning
During her incredible journey, Evelyn discovers that she is the worst version of herself among the dozens of versions in alternative universes. For example, in one parallel universe, Evelyn is a successful chef, while in another, she is a Kung Fu master, and in yet another, she is a famous movie star. In our universe, Evelyn is a woman struggling with tax debts, various problems with her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), and having difficulty accepting her daughter Joy‘s (Stephanie Hsu) homosexuality, and she cannot bring herself to tell her father from China about it. Despite all of her financial and family problems, the main character, who also faces the phrase “this is your worst version,” embarks on a long adventure to learn her purpose in life instead of believing that her life is worthless.
One of the significant points of the movie is Evelyn’s interaction with all the good versions of herself in alternative universes and being tasked with saving the universe as the “chosen one.” While it may seem ironic that someone who is their worst version can be the chosen one, we understand that the directors are trying to overcome this irony as we watch.
Jobu Tupaki, the villain that needs to be defeated in the film, is another version of Joy, Evelyn’s daughter, in a parallel universe, which changes the course of the film and sets the stage for the message to be delivered in the final stage.
Jobu Tupaki is a character who has seen and experienced all universes and can control them all at once. However, the result of this control and experience is nothingness. Jobu Tupaki learns that everything is nothing, and nothing is important. As a result, he creates a black hole called the “everything bagel,” which has the power to destroy everything around him and encompasses everything in all universes, and tries to pull Evelyn into it. The fact that the primary symbol is a bagel is one of the absurdities that carries meaning behind the film.
Positive Nihilism and the Message of the Film
In today’s modern life, individuals try to keep up with everything at the same time, the rush brought by the necessity of success and the desire to be in control of everything undoubtedly leads modern humans to restlessness, emptiness, and meaninglessness. In this context, we can say that the pretzel symbolizes nihilism and the numbness of modern humans.
But if life is so empty and meaningless, our finite life occupies less than a point in the vast universe, and the place where all our efforts will lead to is nothingness, what should we do?
Should we throw this meaningless life we have into a big black hole?
The film tells us that we need to do the exact opposite, that is, to create our own meaning and enjoy life. In this respect, Everything Everywhere All At Once offers its viewers a positive version of nihilism with every detail. In contrast to nihilism, which considers everything meaningless and insignificant, optimistic nihilism – or optimistic nothingness – suggests that each individual can create their own meaning in the meaninglessness of life.
We are living a life that we know will end one day in a universe of incomprehensible size. As it was said in the scene where Evelyn and Joy become rocks, one of the most creative sequences of recent times: “We are all small and stupid.”
Conclusion: Finding Meaning in the Meaninglessness of Life
Throughout our lives, unanswered questions, futile inquiries, existential crises, and the damage modern life inflicts upon our sense of self can sometimes lead us to believe that life is meaningless, perhaps even to the point where everything in life is pointless. Just like the character Jobu Tupaki in the film who realizes that everything is nothing after all his searching. Optimistic nihilism offers an effective perspecti ve for overcoming this problem of meaning, by stating that the meaning of life is to live, experience, and struggle.
Like everyone else, we too came into this world, and regardless of whether it is meaningful or not, we have only one life that we can live. Therefore, we should aim to be happy, passionately devoted to what we love, cling to what is good, and live as we wish. If we think that the universe has no purpose, we can determine our own purpose and if we feel that our lives are meaningless, we can create our own meaning.
Everything Everywhere All At Once reminds us that life is worth living, showing us through the character of Evelyn that we can create meaning from meaninglessness, and is a very special production that is occasionally bewildering but ultimately uplifting. We strongly recommend that anyone who enjoys contemplating the universe and life, who appreciates the humorous and sincere discussion of big issues, should watch this film!
Last modified: July 9, 2023