Everything Everywhere All at Once: Bringing Big Issues To The Big Screen

Black and white image of a laundromat, with washing machines on either side and a trolley in the middle
Vivika Sahajpal

With its fascinating writing and acting, alongside the depth of emotion and concepts interweaved throughout the plot, the production value and cinematography of Everything Everywhere All at Once have caused it to be nominated for an incredible range of awards and universally applauded. It explores mental health and race via philosophical concepts whilst keeping a comedic feel throughout; however, the question arises of how well it handles the complex issues it portrays.

Having recieved over 150 recognitions and accolades from significant organisations, Everything Everywhere All at Once has become the most awarded movie of all time. This comedy-drama piece takes place in an absurdist multiverse and focuses on an Asian immigrant couple (Evelyn and Waymond) and their daughter (Joy) as they navigate the immigrant experience and the generation gap that comes into play with issues around relationships and mental health.

From her tax audit appointment for her laundromat, Evelyn is pulled into the interdimensional battle to save the world as reality unravels. With the destruction of the multiverse on the horizon, she traverses the lives she could’ve lived and her family’s place within all of these universes. In a symphony of fear, understanding and love, Evelyn is forced to confront layers of emotion and experience whilst fighting enemies, channelling her newfound powers and trying to maintain order in her original life.

The way the multiverse is conceptualised mirrors the tension and inconsistency that comes with having multiple identities

Taking the Oscars by storm, the movie won seven awards with 11 nominations; in a groundbreaking show of Asian representation across the awards, Michelle Yeoh won ‘Best Actress’ as only the second woman of colour to win in that category and Ke Huy Quan won ‘Best Supporting Actor’. Its awards weren’t the only thing groundbreaking about the movie – it also attempted to address many serious and complex issues throughout its runtime whilst keeping its nature light-hearted, relatable and engaging.

The first of these issues, and perhaps the most obvious one that appears, is how the movie relates to race and the immigrant experience. It represents the emotional journey and lack of belonging that comes with being an immigrant. The way the multiverse is conceptualised mirrors the tension and inconsistency that comes with having multiple identities that are fundamentally dissimilar to one another in culture, language and action.

The way this presents itself between generations is also portrayed with language barriers and ways of showing love creating arguments in the family. The raw humanity of every character is beautifully portrayed throughout these scenes where you’re given an understanding of the depth of emotion and experience from the past to the present to the potential imagined future. The acting and writing manage to capture all of these aspects simultaneously, and therefore paint an intricate picture of relationship and interaction.

Despite its comedic nature, the movie doesn’t shy away from deep philosophical thinking. The basis of the plot and the existence of an infinite multiverse embraces absurdism – the philosophical theory that the universe is chaotic by nature. This means anything that occurs does so by circumstance rather than by fate or at the will of some higher power. Given this, it naturally touches upon themes of existentialism – the belief that we develop our own situations through acts of free will.

The movie ties together the emotional trauma permeating the family

It also delves into the ideology of nihilism – the rejection of all moral principles and religion under the belief that all action or inaction within life is meaningless. The way these philosophical ideas are represented throughout the movie holds integrity and imagination; Everything Everywhere All at Once employs and adapts these concepts in regard to the plot whilst still maintaining the essence of the fundamental ideologies.

The movie’s emotional resonance is largely rooted in the way it uses nihilism to represent the mental health of the characters. Discussing depression and neurodiversity in a comedy, and in a context where absurdism is assumed, leads to the question of how this could affect an audience with similar experiences. The movie ties together the emotional trauma permeating the family; it shows despair, regret and fundamentally, pain.

Mirroring any elements of despair, depression or hopelessness ever felt by the viewer, depictions of the human condition open up a universal vulnerability that encompasses a range of experiences and situations, bringing the audience into the hearts and minds of the characters. Potential issues arise with this when the philosophical and comedic contexts of the movie are taken into account; the link between this despair and nihilism risks validating similar thoughts by discussing depression in an absurdist world.

pioneers a new cinematic approach to the way in which we can explore the human condition

However, this risk is quickly neutralised; there are moments throughout the movie, across different universes, where the protagonists discuss the lack of order in the universe, the meaningless nature of the world and where that leaves them. Initially, nihilism is the path taken in the face of this but eventually, the movie reaches a beautiful conclusion of acceptance. Despite absurdism, there is something to love in every universe, and every universe, itself, still matters and so do the people in it.

Everything Everywhere All at Once pushes the boundaries of audience perception with its talented intertwining of comedy, drama, action and emotion. Unafraid to discuss serious issues, the movie brings sensitive subjects to the foreground whilst still keeping a light touch throughout. In a world of media so full of opinions, discussions and negotiations around these topics, Everything Everywhere All at Once pioneers a new cinematic approach to the way in which we can explore the human condition.

Vivika Sahajpal

Featured image courtesy of Gratisography via Pexels. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

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