Everything Everywhere All at Once: Snapshot
Starting at a Chinese laundry and then an IRS office in Simi Valley, California, a middle age Chinese immigrant woman (Evelyn: Michelle Yeoh) has problems understanding her teenage daughter (Joy: Stephanie Hsu), is at risk of losing her husband (Waymond: Ke Huy Quan), and doesn’t really understand US tax rules (Deirdre: Jamie Lee Curtis). Soon she learns more about herself than she ever imagined as she jumps from one universe to another and encounters all the different lives that could have been hers. When she finally returns, she has a new view of the meaning of her life. This unusual film is surprisingly effective in its exploration of the multiverse and its suggestion of ways to avoid the nihilism that results these days from being such a small existence in an incomprehensible environment. This is another adult must-see for anyone contemplating their own insignificance. (Warning: this is not a conventional movie – I couldn’t help but compare it to 2001: A Space Odyssey in impact and message. And, like that movie, it may take a couple of viewings to untangle it.)
Where to Watch:
Right now, in some theaters.
Rent: Multiple online sources (expensive) or wherever you get your discs
Everything Everywhere All at Once: The Oscar Buzz
Best Picture – WINNER
Director (Dan Kwan/Daniel Scheinert) – WINNER
Original Screenplay (Dan Kwan/Daniel Scheinert) -WINNER
Leading Actress (Michelle Yeoh) – WINNER
Supporting Actor (Ke Huy Quan) – WINNER
Supporting Actress (Jamie Lee Curtis) – WINNER
Supporting Actress (Stephanie Hsu
Film Editing (Paul Rogers) – WINNER
Costume Design (Shirley Kurata)
Original Score (Son Lux)
Original Song (“This Is Life”; Lott/Byrne/Mitski)
This movie has the highest Oscar Quality Index (OQI) of all 39 of this year’s movies with eleven nominations and seven in the major categories, including all four of the major actors. In addition to the major nominations, it had minor nominations indicating good technical and support values. It is even more remarkable because none of the nominees from this movie have ever been Oscar-nominated before. While I still think The Banshees of Inisherin will take the Best Picture Oscar, this film comes in a strong second and could well win. This year is also unusual because, like Banshees…, all four of the major actors received Oscar nominations – it is unusual to have two pictures both with strong acting ensembles in the Oscar competition.
Everything Everywhere All at Once: The Movie’s Family Tree
The Following Movies Share Talent with This One
(and if you like these films, you might like this one):
Swiss Army Man (06): Writers/Directors – Kwan/Scheinert; Cinematographer – Seidel; Sound – Kiser; Production Design – Kisvarday
Death of Dick Long (19): Writer/Director – Scheinert; Editor – Rogers; Sound – Kiser
Omniboat: A Fast Boat Fantasia (20): Writers/Directors – Kwan/Scheinert; Production Design – Kisvarday
DJ Snake and Lil Jon: Turn Down for What (14 – A Music Video): Writers/Directors – Kwan/Scheinert; Production Design – Kisvarday
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (21): Actors – Michelle Yeoh/Stephanie Hsu
Knives Out (19): Actor – Jamie Lee Curtis
Everything Everywhere All at Once: What Others Think
Seems like everyone likes this movie. Out of this year’s 25 general interest movies, audiences rated it 6th, and, surprisingly, critics placed it 7th. Ben Walters (Sight&Sound) wrote “The great pleasures of Everything Everywhere All at Once come from the dazzlingly bizarre imagination with which the … (Daniels)…bring this set-up to life.” Even A.O. Scott (New York Times) gushed “I like my multiverses messy, and if I say that Everything Everywhere All at Once is too much, it’s a way of acknowledging the Daniels’ generosity.” After noting that Jamie Lee Curtis must have had “the time of her life” in her role, and Michelle Yeoh’s performance “brought tears to my eyes more than once”, MaryAnn E. Gates (RogerEbert) concluded “Chaos reigns and life may only ever make sense in fleeting moments, but it’s those moments we should cherish.”
Everything Everywhere All at Once: Special Mention
A Very Low Budget – It is very rare for an action/sci-fi movie to have such strong initial popular and critical success without a massive production budget. But with Everything Everywhere All at Once the Daniels (Kwan/Scheinert) have achieved something unique. The reported budget is just $25 million – low for a movie in these genres. But I’ve also read that the actual budget might be as low as $14.5 million, which would be ridiculously low. Instead of a team of a 1000 special effects wizards, only about a half-dozen people, all self-trained and including the directors, created the effects you see on screen. The movie, released less than a year ago and still in theaters, has already grossed more than $106 million in box office revenues.
The Multiverse – The concept of multiple universes is one of three key philosophical concepts necessary to appreciate this movie. Although the Greek Atomists suggested a notion of worlds expiring and regenerating forever 2500 years ago, the modern “multiverse” notion posits that multiple universes exist simultaneously, and that we live in just one of what could be an infinite number of possible universes spread across up to 11 different dimensions, of which we are only aware of four. Modern physics, as developed in the equations of quantum mechanics, has created this concept as a way of explaining the apparent fact that any observable instance of a quark is only a statistical probability of a “wave equation” that collapses at the point of measurement. The implication is that it could have been observed with different values, with different probabilities, in other universes. So the mathematics of physics can, at the moment, only be explained by postulating multiple universes – a “multiverse”. Theoretical physicists have even gone so far as to suggest four levels (Max Tegman) and nine different types (Brian Greene) of universes. There is, of course, no physical or observable proof of their existence, but it might not even be possible to provide such proof simply because of how they are so radically different from our own universe – what we know of as “proof” might not even apply elsewhere.
That hasn’t stopped popular culture from speculating about them. And there has been a constant flow of such popularizations since the idea first came up decades ago. Most recently, the science-fiction action movie world has given us multiple examples of how this might work, including the Avengers: Infinity Wars, Avengers: Endgame and super-hero movies such as Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse. (All of that is, of course, great fun. But we have, as yet, no idea whether or how, the multiverse concept is at all related to life and consciousness, or, really, anything bigger than a quark.)
Nihilism – The second concept at the core of this film is another ancient philosophical concept, Nihilism. Buddha outlines the essential elements of the philosophy nearly 2700 years ago and, despite a resurgence through the work of philosophers Kierkegaard, the Russians, Nietzsche, and Heidegger starting 400 years ago, the basic concept hasn’t changed a whole lot. In its simplest form, the idea is that life has no ultimate meaning. Taken to its furthest extremes, it could also be interpreted as not only does life have no meaning, but we do not, and cannot, know whether anything exists, or, at its most extreme, nothing exists to know anything about! It can be a rather depressing philosophy and, mostly, empty (forgive the pun)!
Postmodernism – Finally, there is this concept. Since this is the time we live in now, it is very difficult to pin a definition on what this means. But my understanding is that Postmodernism is, basically, the culture that generates when the multiverse and nihilism intersect. Because we are such infinitesimal “pieces of shit” in a multitude of infinite universes, there is no real way of finding meaning in our lives. Modern physics has given us no basis for hope of finding out why we have consciousness, or why this negative-entropy called life was created in the first place, so our only path seems to be towards a chaotic, meaningless existence where our leaders are perfectly justified to call each other liars and to create alternative facts. Everything is relative after all, and there is no basis for any rules or standards. (I.e. Cultural and Social Nihilism).
Everything Everywhere All at Once: Michael’s Moments
Everything Everywhere All at Once is a movie about Postmodernism, Nihilism, and the Multiverse. At the outset this film can be confusing and, at least, strange. When I first viewed it, I kept having feelings similar to those I felt watching 2001: A Space Odyssey fifty-some years ago – one of my favorite movies of all time – and there are indeed definite parallels. The “psychedelic sequences” in that movie would, now-a-days, be considered somewhat primitive, but the jumping between universes in Everything Everywhere All at Once is, emotionally, the same thing. And the questions it leaves you with are similar.
After a twelve minute sequence that introduces you to the main characters and their situation, the movie is broken into three, very unequal parts identified in the title.
In EVERYTHING, our middle-age Asian immigrant – Evelyn – with all her problems learns that she is the center of attention, for the first time in her life, in not just her world, but in every universe possibly imagined. She learns about the existence of the Everything Bagel, a construct that has the possibility of destroying everything that ever existed in our universe and all others (Ultimate Nihilism). Evelyn learns that it is precisely because she fails at everything that she has become the center of all possibilities – every time she has made a decision, new universes were created taking the paths she didn’t take. She learns there are an infinite number of other Evelyns out there each like her, but also different in some way.
This part of the movie lasts more than an hour and is too long. In trying to make a movie to be “Everything to Everyone”, the Daniels have tried to incorporate science fiction, comedy, horror, and, especially, martial arts action movies. (There are multiple fight scenes in this part of the movie and some of them (like the butt-plug sequence) are frustratingly unnecessary – aside from polishing their low-budget special effects efforts and exciting the audience with lots of action scenes, some of these sequences have low information value). I can say that the scenes involving Deirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis) are all great and so pay attention to them!
At about 1 hour and 26 minutes, Part II, EVERYWHERE starts. The focus in this section is where Evelyn puts everything together that she had learned in the first section and begins to understand what it is she must do. She comes to some very important conclusions about her family and how to change her life.
In what is the most brilliant part of the movie, one of the universes Evelyn and her daughter Joy – umm, it is complicated – jump to is a rock world where conditions were such that life never developed. Nevertheless, these two rocks sitting on top of a cliff are able to communicate with each other (not by talking – rocks can’t talk – but through dialog boxes drawn on screen). The conversation between these two rocks is the best and most complete description of what is going on that you will find anywhere in this film, or in any essay talking about it. So pay very close attention to the rock world – it appears a couple of times and it is important.
At 2 hours and 10 minutes, the last part, ALL AT ONCE, starts (and it only lasts about 5 minutes). Evelyn is back at the IRS office, accompanied by her husband, her daughter, and her father, and is being audited by Deirdre. This is where the movie started two hours earlier. But now everything has changed. Evelyn has learned some important lessons about herself, life, and reality …