Photo: ‘Everything, Everywhere, All At Once’
Released in theaters on March 11th, 2022, ‘Everything, Everywhere, All At Once’ earned overwhelming critic praise, but little public attention. Unlike anything else on the market, this film is simply phenomenal and essential to the conversation of immigrant family trauma.
There are few words that are adequate in the description of the experience which is ‘Everything, Everywhere, All At Once’. This is something people have to witness for themselves. And while the discussions that this film sparks are incredibly niche, it is hard to imagine someone that wouldn’t be able to carry something out of this story.
Following the lives of the Wang family, the film dives into the complexities of relationships between immigrant parents and their children while expanding on the concept of parental accountability. Throughout the story, Evelyn Wang (portrayed by Michelle Yeoh) must unlearn the biases that were forced upon her by her culture in order to understand her daughter’s perspectives and earn back her trust.
Taking place in a multiverse of chaos, ‘Everything, Everywhere, All At Once’ serves the purpose of creating an environment so unstable that it is impossible to ignore the contradictions that arise when downplaying the experiences of others because they differ from your own. So strap in, you’re in for a wild ride. And beware, spoilers ahead!
What is Your Deal?
Joy (portrayed by Stephanie Hsu) is a 20-something-year-old woman who was raised in an immigrant household. This sort of upbringing comes with a set of unique challenges ranging in difficulty depending on the parents’ background. After spending her teen years trying to argue for her identity, Joy has had enough and is very close to giving up on repairing her relationship with her mother. In her eyes, Evelyn seeks to critique everything she does, and that is particularly hurtful when the critiques are aimed at the very core of her identity.
Being a queer kid of immigrant parents is a very interesting type of trauma. As a lesbian, Joy has to struggle every step of the way to get her mother to understand her existence. Though subtle to the heteronormative world, Evelyn’s homophobia is extremely alienating to Joy. Beyond alienating, it is truly defeating. For those that have experienced growing up in this environment, this film is a fun-house mirror. When growing up with a parent that proclaims themselves as supportive as they come, you do begin to question the pain you know you feel. After all, outright discrimination is much easier to identify than the off-hand comments or tug-of-war kitchen fights. And even though Evelyn is not hateful towards Joy and her identity, to a queer child of immigrants, the negative biases are very obvious. So in the end, things do come down to understanding that just because something is better, doesn’t mean it’s good.
As the first installment of the three-part film progresses, the audience is introduced to the main conflict of the movie. In an alternate universe, a version of Joy has gone completely rogue after being pushed past her breaking point by a scientist version of Evelyn. Rogue Joy is now on a mission to find the “right” Evelyn to take into a black hole so that they can cease to exist together – truly die. This leads to a version of Joy’s father, Waymond Wang (portrayed by Ke Huy Quan), contacting our Evelyn to get her to help him save the multiverse from rogue Joy. But what makes our Evelyn right for the job? As it turns out, she’s perfect because she is kind of terrible at everything.
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Nothing, Nowhere, None At Once
One of the biggest discussions that this film brings to the table is whether or not endless possibilities make life worthless or desirable. Rogue Joy sees every universe at once, meaning that infinity is actually comprehensible to her. In order to save both her daughter and the multiverse, Evelyn must learn to see everything, everywhere, all at once – just like rogue Joy. This pursuit leads to a conversation between the two, during which Joy states a rather controversial truth – nothing matters.
This is an elementary philosophical concept, yet it is one that is nearly impossible to truly comprehend. Many argue that it is simply too pessimistic to be true, however it all comes down to the fact that when nothing matters, truly anything can matter. In this case, when the multiverse is your oyster, a family-owned laundromat is somehow the most important place in the world.
In trying to get Evelyn to understand that what she knows of the world cannot equate to even a fraction of the truth, rogue Joy establishes a very unique perspective for the viewer through which we learn to see that there is nothing that could possibly give purpose to our existence. That concept is unbelievably freeing, teaching us that being “authentic” (and within that, perfectly ordinary) is not as outlandish as it seems.
I’m Not Ready to Fight
Is it truly possible to be ready for something? Not at all! Most people have an incredibly hard time accepting that. However, all it comes down to is stepping up when duty calls, and that is all we can really do.
As a parent, your core duty will always be to protect your child. And that is exactly what Evelyn forced herself to do, even though she had not the slightest clue as to what the multiverse would toss her way. Slowly recognizing that, rogue Joy lets Evelyn in on the secrets of her plans for multiverse domination – it’s all about the bagel.
Locked in battle with a version of her daughter, Evelyn learns a valuable lesson of motherhood – your child is their own person, not an extension of you. By expecting Joy to behave herself in the manner that an idealized version of Evelyn would, her mother created an environment in which Joy could not amount to anything as long as she wasn’t her mother’s “mini-me”. The film does a perfect job at dissecting that type of household toxicity and parental narcissism, allowing both the characters and the audience the opportunity to learn that even though you might not understand something, it doesn’t make it okay to disrespect it.
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New Era for Family Film
‘Everything, Everywhere, All At Once’ falls into a peculiar new category of film in which parents apologize. Similar to the new Pixar favorites such as ‘Inside Out’, ‘Coco’, ‘Encanto’, and ‘Turning Red’, the film forces Evelyn to see her daughter’s point of view. The concept of parental apologies seems simple, especially for people that grew up in healthy family environments. However, for those of us that were not so lucky, this new era of family-oriented film is a breath of fresh air. In a way, this genre of media is immensely validating, providing children raised in toxic households with an outside view of what they went through and how the history of their families influenced that. The goal of these sorts of films is not to make anyone feel bad, it’s actually the exact opposite. Seeing this sort of recognition for the struggles of growing up with the wrong types of support or complete lack thereof, can be incredibly empowering. And as a parent, having your own past validated is a rare experience.
Hilarious, repulsive, upsetting, uncomfortable, feel-good, and chaotic – this film truly is everything all at once. Remarkably well done – with perfect timing, twisted effects, unmatched editing, and surprisingly cohesive storytelling. ‘Everything, Everywhere, All At Once’ is not something to miss out on. Beyond a film, it is an experience that leaves you questioning just about everything you know (and helping you acquire some empathy in the process). A sincere mindfuck packed with every life lesson you could possibly need, a masterpiece even. From the bottom of my queer immigrant heart, please go watch this movie.
Cast and Crew
By Micha Jones
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Micha Jones is a writer and aspiring television producer who is dedicated to education and equity. Writing review and feature articles for The Hollywood Insider, they focus on the ways in which media can tell marginalized stories. Through reflecting on the portrayal of social and environmental issues in TV and film, Micha aims to make positive changes in the entertainment industry. Micha’s work often carries The Hollywood Insider’s signature “mic-drop” perspectives and makes an effort to tell educational and socially progressive stories. They strongly believe in accurate representation in film and emphasize the power of the community.