How “Everything Everywhere All at Once” uses sci-fi in a new and thought-provoking way

For all its multiversal madness, Everything everywhere all at once feels like home.

I was swept away by the rapid Chinglish (through Mandarin and Cantonese), the jumbles of pronouns in English (they’re homophones in Chinese), the repeated whispers 神经病 (shen jing bing) by the house’s scattered matriarch, Evelyn. Waymond’s baggy, striped polo shirt resembles my dad’s, and Evelyn’s vest (emblazoned with “Punk”) and floral shirt are in the tradition of accidental Chinese hipsters via Los Angeles’ Chinatown, where I spent many weekends wandering around as a kid.

There are also the dazzling tributes to wuxia, Wong Kar-wai and Peking Opera, with a cast of cinema legends. This includes Michelle Yeoh, whose martial arts and acting career precedes her Shang Chi and boobies rich asian fame, Ke Huy Quan’s return to the screen after working behind the camera with Wong Kar Wai and Corey Yuen in the years since IndianaJonesand James Hong, who has over 650 film and television credits.

But as a child of the diaspora in the United States, the domestic and family details are what make Everywhere feels so deliciously Chinese – and queer – to me. These small details are also touchstones for the other experiences of the Asian diaspora and immigrants: three generations at home, stumbling through native languages, a kitchen table covered in paperwork, concealing the partner of a queer child in calling him a “friend”, and the disappointment of being born a girl.

Everything is everywhere The Daniels directors describe the multiverse as a metaphor for modern life and the immigrant experience. It reflects how science fiction can be an empowering tool for people on the margins – through imagination and critical attention to how the present and past can inform their sense of self.

What grounds the film’s alternate worlds is its dedication to portraying a Chinese-American family in the present and using the multiverse to explore the extent of their desires and dreams – unfulfilled or unfulfilled.

In his heart, Everywhere broadens the sense of possibility of what future Chinese, Asian Diaspora, immigrant, and queer might be. We all have much to gain from a story of intergenerational healing, of women saving and saving each other, and of men whose masculinities are grounded in vulnerability and gentleness. We also witness the queer love between generations and the eternal struggle to overcome past differences and seize moments of connection with your parents – and the world at large.

Overturn stereotypes

Michelle Yeoh plays Evelyn in Everything Everywhere Everything at Once.A24

Everywhere begins with Evelyn Wang (Yeoh) trying to make sense of a pile of receipts in the middle of a tax audit while running the family laundry. She doesn’t really pay attention to her husband, Waymond (Quan), who is trying to serve his divorce papers. Evelyn also can’t focus on her disappointed father, Gong Gong (Hong), and estranged daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu), to whom she struggles to apologize and instead comments on her weight.

Even later, when her alternate universe husband (“alpha Waymond”) replays her life’s paths and implores her to use universe-hopping technology to save the world, Evelyn’s spirit is always on his taxes. Namely, she focuses on overzealous IRS employee Deirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis) watching her from across the table.

Soon, Evelyn makes her way through a Simi Valley IRS building only to run into the most powerful being in the multiverse, none other than her alternate universe daughter, Jobu Tupaki. Jobu’s chaotic nihilism leaves death and destruction in its wake. She is the cause of everything that seems out of place in the world. Evelyn decides to defeat this omniscient and omnipresent entity to save her daughter.

Stephanie Hsu, Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan in Everything everywhere all at once.A24

With each twist, subtle reflections of injustice, in institutional and interpersonal contexts, creep in as quickly as they occur. A creepy laundromat customer remarks, “I thought you were good at math,” after a machine eats his twenty dollar bill.

Of all the dodgy tax activities to focus on, Deirdre seems to target people like Evelyn to audit and doesn’t try to make her language more accessible even when she acknowledges that the Wangs’ daughter isn’t there to translate. Deidre does what anyone who has facilitated communication for a loved one has witnessed: enunciate, raise and slow her voice with alienating impatience.

For all the ways these moments erode their sense of agency in the world, they also highlight the power that each character taps into when accessing their alternate lives – their “would-haves” and “could-haves.” .

In a heartbreakingly comical moment, Evelyn breathlessly proclaims that she wants her husband to see how beautiful her life could have been without him. Waymond, seen as unhappy and weak in his sweetness, says his kindness and optimism are assets. They’re strategic to survival and the very things Evelyn learns to save herself, her family, and the world… with a lot of wide eyes.

Expectation vs reality

Stephanie Hsu plays Evelyn Joy’s daughter and villainous Jobu Tupaki (pictured) in Everything everywhere all at once.A24

The origin story of the film’s antagonist Jobu Tupaki, Joy’s villainous alter-ego, shares an easy parallel to expectation-centered parent-child relationships. In the alpha-verse, Jobu’s mother (alpha-Evelyn) pushed her to a breaking point while practicing skipping verses, fracturing Jobu’s mind. Jobu now spends his days traversing the multiverse and leaving countless Evelyns dead, all in an effort to find a version of his mother who understands what she is going through.

For Evelyn, who took her deferred dreams as an immigrant and pinned them all on her daughter, it’s easier to imagine another powerful, all-pervading being controlling her daughter. But she eventually accepts that she is the source of her daughter’s pain and comes to terms with the fact that her daughter is her own person, who dropped out of college and does indeed have a girlfriend, tattoos and suffers from depression. .

This is like saying in China – where same-sex marriage is neither legalized nor criminalized – that the idea of ​​LGBTQ equality was born out of Western ideology rather than the personalities of those who defend themselves.

“The humanity of the characters is inseparable from their queerness.”

The Daniels have declared their commitment to maintaining the distribution of gay storylines in China, where Dumbledore’s relationship with Grindelwald is fading, and Chloe Zhao, who wanted to preserve Phastos’ sexuality in Eternals, since the film never opened in China. Compromising for the sake of distribution would run contrary to the film’s theme of refusing compartmentalization and conditional acceptance. Even if there are strongly disapproving forces on the other end, the humanity of the characters is inseparable from their queerness and therefore from the film.

Seeing Evelyn and Joy deftly kick ass is cathartic and rewarding, as well as seeing their vulnerabilities in the difficult and emotional conversations they have to heal their strained relationship. This leads to Evelyn’s confrontation with her father, who more or less disowned her when she married Waymond.

“How could you let go so easily?” she asks him before realizing that she no longer needs his approval. Likewise, the Alpha-universe Gong Gong was ready to kill Joy/Jobu because, for him, reconciliation was unimaginable. Seeing Evelyn break the cycle of intergenerational pain to stand up for her daughter and herself seemed miraculous to me. And I imagine the same goes for anyone who has seen parents reproduce similar patterns of suffering – or perhaps recognize their parents in their own actions.

A sci-fi form of healing

Joy (Stephanie Hsu), Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) and Gong Gong (James Hong) in Everything everywhere all at once.A24

The parent-child relationships surrounding Evelyn are full of conflict, but overcoming it is what allows her to grow and save the day. That being said, Everywhere may sound sentimental, but the film offers a more complex understanding of human stories at interpersonal and societal levels.

For example, Waymond says his gentleness and kindness are strategic and necessary for survival; these are its strengths. This echoes Adrienne Maree-Brown, who wrote “Organizing Everything is Science Fiction“, and says that visionary fiction is “realistic and harsh, but hopeful”, and Dr. Angela Davis, who says of political protest: “We can’t do anything without optimism.

Faced with a world that encroaches on both our free will and our connectedness – giving more reason to lean into the comforts of nihilism – Evelyn must strive for love and kindness. When an alternate world Deirdre flies towards her in a slow motion sumo wrestler kick, she has to say “I love you” and mean it. In another world where everyone has hot dogs for their fingers, Evelyn, despite all her scoldings about Joy’s girlfriend, finds herself romantically entangled with none other than Deirdre.

“I saw myself in the relationships of the film, and I saw what could be.

After realizing she must fight with kindness like Waymond, Evelyn triggers a series of events where she shows love for each of her opponents through something she learned about them in other worlds. alternatives.

A mother travels worlds to hold her daughter back and save her from the swirling black hole of an all-purpose bagel. In another universe, their embrace is a supercup of two colliding planets. Through the layers of elaborate, wondrous, and often comical sci-fi premises, I saw myself in the film’s relationships, and I saw what could be.

The film made me imagine worlds and futures where we could heal painful and strained relationships with our mothers or other loved ones. Isn’t that futurism in itself? A future where we can heal?

I watched Everywhere when it premiered in San Francisco to an audience packed with members of the Asian diaspora. In the middle of our long moment in Covid, Sinophobia and anti-Asian violence (based on a history of media and legislation that once served to extract underpaid work, such as building national rail infrastructure and running laundromats , then restaurants, and continues to portray us as weak and submissive), the experience was special, bittersweet, and yes, healing.

At the time of the premiere, it had just been the first anniversary of the six women who died at an Atlanta spa. The deaths of Christina Yuna Lee, Michelle Go and many others were at the top of our minds. They could have been any of us.

But in a crowd of strangers, Everywhere enveloped us in the warmth of familiarity. In a refreshing departure from both orientalism and self-effacement, it reminded us that we are here, right now, and can dream everything we wanted to be everywhere other too.

Everything everywhere all at once now playing in theaters.

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About Donald P. Hooten

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