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All at Once: Everything and Everywhere

Everything Everywhere All at Once swept the floor at this year’s Academy Awards, winning a staggering seven Oscars and claiming Hollywood's most coveted prize of Best Picture. But alongside fantasy, parallel universes and adventure, it’s perhaps the enduring themes of meaning, love and sacrifice- explored through the nuances of the Asian mother-child relationship- that garnered the most attention.

3 mins

March 24, 2023

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Evelyn: the metaphor of love in the form of an Asian mother

Evelyn, played by the newly crowned Best Actress Michelle Yeoh, is part of the ‘sandwich’ generation – she straddles between a generation that favours men over women and places high expectations on their children, and one that is more open-minded. She’s the mother no one wants to have, but, in some aspects, every woman wants to be: a powerful multitasker who takes on more than she can chew. Evelyn is strong; she can bake her cake and eat it too. She saves her laundromat business from IRS litany, and the multiverse from ultimate destruction.

Yet she struggles on every level to express affection for her family, and she holds exceedingly unreasonable expectations for her daughter. But as she chases after the fleeting and ever-evolving Joy (both the state of things and her daughter), we start to see something shift- she digs deep on her journey of self-reflection. Evelyn shows us that despite her flaws and shortcomings, the love of a mother is deep and unrelenting. Through her sacrifice, even at the risk of having a fractured reality caught between verses, she rescues her daughter from falling into the black hole of cynicism. She stands against the generation that came before her to spare the life of her child. On her journey, she reveals that she is both strong and empathetic, finally finding contentment in the ‘nobody’ Evelyn she is, in the context she’s been placed in, with the family that she has – all the qualities a mother can and should possess.

Nothing really matters

According to the late French philosopher Albert Camus in his essay, The Rebel, “If we believe in nothing, if nothing has any meaning and if we can affirm no values whatsoever, then everything is possible and nothing has any importance.”

The premise of Everything Everywhere All at Once is built on nihilism, the belief that life is meaningless. We see this in the character of Joy, where she experiences every possible reality in the multiverse to the point of absurdity- until, at the end of the day, nothing really matters. Everything loses its worth and meaning. 

This struggle with meaninglessness is not new. We see it today, and we see it in the Bible in the character of King Solomon. Despite his social status, achievements and riches, Solomon laments, “When I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.”

No matter if we’re Joy or King Solomon, it seems that when we look within ourselves- and the worlds we create- for fulfilment and satisfaction, something is still lacking.

Finding the eternal in the mundane

In the mundanity of laundry and taking care of the everyday, Evelyn’s multiverse-hopping challenges the concept of contentment in the right here and now. She contemplates other possible scenarios where she doesn’t marry her husband and instead becomes a Kungfu star, or a rock absolved of all emotions and speech. In a world of what-ifs, life in the mundane feels like plain vanilla, but in the end, the now is where Evelyn wants to be:

Joy: “You could be anything, anywhere. Why not go somewhere where your daughter is more than just this? Here, all we get are a few specks of time where any of this actually makes any sense.”

Evelyn: “Then I will cherish these few specks of time.”

Today’s world offers endless possibilities of what could be, but it seems that there’s one thing that can stand the test of time, and parallel universes: relationship. In Evelyn’s pursuit of her daughter throughout the multiverses, she eventually concludes: “Of all the places I could be, I just want to be here with you.”.

And that’s something King Solomon grasped too- except it was his relationship with God that grounded him.

Even in a world where all possibilities are presented to the point that nothing matters and everything is meaningless, love helps us land and gives us something not just to hope in, but to live in.

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