an illustration of the main character from Everything Everywhere All at once
Illustration by Alex Suarez, Columbia College Chicago

‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ Still Confounds Viewers

While the film has been massively popular, its complex and absurd nature requires a second look at its themes and plot.

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an illustration of the main character from Everything Everywhere All at once
Illustration by Alex Suarez, Columbia College Chicago

While the film has been massively popular, its complex and absurd nature requires a second look at its themes and plot.

A24 is known for its complex, often bizarre movies with endings that leave the audience scratching their heads. Its recent “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is no exception, so if you feel like you need some further explanation of what exactly happened, don’t worry — you’re not alone.

The movie hit theaters in the U.S. on April 8, and quickly took the world by storm. “Everything Everywhere All at Once” was showered with praise, boasting a 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and grossing over $50 million at the box office. Now this year’s cult classic, the A24 film follows a middle-aged mother, Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh), who owns a laundromat with her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan). Dealing with an audit, awaiting the arrival of her elderly father and navigating her marriage, Evelyn is overwhelmed by the mundane trials of her life. Meanwhile, her daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu), is desperately trying to get her mother to accept her sexuality and her girlfriend, Becky.

While this may seem relatively straightforward, things quickly get complicated, like in most A24 movies. Enter: the multiverse. Evelyn soon finds out that she is just one in a grand multiverse of infinite versions, in which one version of herself invented a way to “verse jump” — or travel between the different versions of oneself and use their abilities. She must learn to use these skills to combat an evil version of her daughter known as Jobu Tupaki. Jobu Tupaki, in her own universe known as the Alphaverse, suffered a mental break that allowed her to exist as all versions of herself in all the various universes at once. Essentially, she could be everything, everywhere, all at once (hence the film’s title). This evil version of Joy is set on destroying the Alphaverse, and it is up to Evelyn to stop her.

This complicated storyline helps create an illusion of a big plot, even though the focus is primarily on the family. The whole film can be viewed as a metaphor for the problems between the members of the family, particularly the relationship between Evelyn and Joy. After battling through the multiverse, the two end up at the “everything bagel” that Jobu has created, which is in essence a black hole. She reveals to Evelyn that she did not create the bagel with the intent to destroy the universe, but rather to destroy herself.

This is a clever metaphor for how Joy feels in her relationship with her mother. The two lack connection and communication, and this tenuous relationship is materialized by the literal void of the black-hole bagel. Without any resolution between them, Joy has spiraled into a depression in which she feels everything is meaningless, a state that is embodied by the Jobu Tupaki version of herself. While Jobu appears evil, it is revealed that deep down she just wants someone to feel what she is feeling, to empathize and understand her. This is a direct parallel to the real Joy, who yearns to be understood and accepted by her mother.

Evelyn eventually realizes this, spurred by a speech about kindness from her husband and from recounting her own feelings of rejection by her father. Not wanting to repeat these mistakes, Evelyn approaches Jobu in a manner of tender understanding, assuring her that no matter what, even if they despise each other, she will always choose to be by her side, as she is her daughter. They have an open heart-to-heart and are able to finally understand one another. The film ends with the family back in the laundromat in the regular universe. They are still their imperfect selves, but now that they have reconciled their differences and accepted each other’s faults, they have finally found happiness. Joy’s girlfriend, Becky, is embraced by the family and both Evelyn and Waymond have reignited the romance in their marriage. They have the chance to start fresh with their audit and everything culminates in a beautiful moment of understanding and acceptance.

The film, originally written in 2016, hoped to address a multitude of issues — the generational divide seen in first-generation immigrant families, damaged relationships, identity crises, nihilism, and the very meaning of being alive, to name a few. There is no doubt that this film has a massive scope. In addition to exploring these themes, the film has also been praised for its emotional versatility. Audiences are brought on a journey that has them laughing, crying and everything in between.

Directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, collectively known as the Daniels, are the masterminds behind some of A24’s more bizarre movies, such as Swiss Army Man. They describe their inspiration for the tone of the film to be based on the “weird algorithm” of YouTube videos and the internet’s absurdism. They were heavily influenced by the online landscape of the time, wanting to emulate the “contradictions and emotional whiplash” of using the internet. Kwan describes: “The internet had started to create these alternate universes. We were for the first time realizing how scary the internet was, moving from this techno optimism to this techno terror. I think this movie was us trying to grapple with that chaos.”

However, as they worked to create something as absurd as their other works, they decided how important it was to sew meaning into their film, and hence the multilayered, dynamic plot of “Everything Everywhere All at Once” was born. Kwan, drawing on his own experience as an immigrant, decided that the multiverse was a perfect way to explore the haunting question of “What if?” that many immigrants face when looking back on their decision to uproot their lives.

This movie really does contain everything, everywhere, all at once. It’s a sci-fi thriller full of emotion, humor, family tension and, quite literally, infinite universes — it is truly a film like no other. And as absurd as some moments are, the Daniels made sure that every frame and scene was intentional and furthered one of the many narratives the movie explores — for example, the infamous hotdog hand scene between Evelyn and her IRS agent nemesis Deirdre in which their fingers are hotdogs and they appear to be in love.

Viewers may chalk this scene up to the directors attempting to be as absurd as possible to get a laugh out of the audience, but even this strange scene has meaning. Kwan explained: “Evelyn has to find a way to love a universe in which her auditor, the woman she hates the most of the world, is her lover, and their genetics have evolved in the way in which their mating ritual is so foreign and grotesque to her that she literally wants to gag from it,” Kwan said. “To take that absurd image and try to force her to see the beauty in it was a really fun challenge.”

“Everything Everywhere All at Once” is a popular film with a multitude of layers and themes. At its essence, it is a beautiful commentary on what is really important in life — family. It is definitely a film worth rewatching more than once.

Writer Profile

Kaitlyn Anderson

Cornell University
Communication, Biology and Society

Kaitlyn Anderson is a student at Cornell University. She loves to explore the intersection between science and humanitarian studies. She lives in New Hampshire where she enjoys hiking and surfing.

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