Evelyn’s mind-opening multiverse journey eventually leads to the realization that nothing matters more than being there for, and loving, her daughter. To get to this point, however, first, she has to confront her own trauma and shame at being disowned by her father in her youth for marrying Waymond. Because isn’t she mimicking this behavior by being so difficult about Joy’s sexuality, and devaluing the importance of her daughter’s partner?
“I’m no longer willing to do to my daughter what you did to me,“ Evelyn tells her father in one of the film’s many poignant scenes. Later, she expresses her commitment to breaking the cycle of shame even more directly, telling Joy, “…no matter what, I still want to be here with you. I will always, always want to be here with you.” Evelyn frees herself to love her daughter in a way she herself has never been loved.
This moment resonates deeply for many viewers who have experienced such trauma, especially rejection and judgment, from their parents for not being successful enough, smart enough, and straight enough. Scheinert emphasized in a joint statement that he and Kwan wanted to “stretch ourselves in every direction to bridge the generational gap that often crumbles into generational trauma.” It’s these themes that have earned Everything Everywhere All At Once a spot in the beloved and ever-growing canon of the parents-who-apologize film genre, alongside the Disney film Encanto (2021) and Domee Shi’s Turning Red (2022).
Everything Everywhere All At Once is, at its core, the story of a dysfunctional parent-child relationship that moves from the micro (emotional conflict within a family unit) to the macro (a physical multiverse war). What some may interpret as routine, relatable tensions between mother and daughter – like sexuality, weight, tattoos, school – are exaggerated beyond any cultural specificity, any individual specificity, to the most extreme possible degree, to a literally absurd degree. The film puts humanity’s despair at feeling “small and shitty” in conversation with our willful determination to be small and shitty through violence, prejudice, and apathy.
As a coping mechanism for our fears and an outlet for our anger, these tactics may be tempting or seem like the only way to barrel ahead. However, as two Waymonds tell two Evelyns in the third act (both through Mandarin and English dialogue), there is another way to find meaning, comfort, and move forward. And it’s easy to remember, even if it’s hard to practice: Be kind.
“I’m not being naive,” Waymond says, referring to his hopeful and positive life philosophy, “It’s strategic and necessary…This is how I fight.”
While obviously not perfect, Everything Everywhere All At Once is an exceptional film in many ways, both including and in addition to its queerness. The filmmakers refused to compromise on or edit out Joy’s sexuality for international distribution, a stand few directors and studios have taken (Chloe Zhao did this for Eternals (2021), which never saw a China release). Quan’s performance in particular has been heralded as a “game-changer” for Asian male representation, and Michelle Yeoh finally got her overdue chance to flex her full range. While there’s been significant progress in dismantling Hollywood’s ingrained sexism and racism regarding representation on (and off) screen, Daniels’ film proved, once again, that a woman and Asian-led picture can crush at the box office. And I’m not even touching on the way characters subvert genre expectations of masculinity and femininity nonstop. Or the alternate universe in which everyone has hotdog fingers, and one-time enemies Evelyn and tax agent Deirdre are close friends, implied lovers, and life partners.
A lot of people have been waiting a long time for a film like this. For its ambitious degree of themes, genres, pop culture references, and challenging acting beats, Everything Everywhere All At Once manages to treat each component with due care and sincerity. Regarding Evelyn and Joy’s relationship, the third act provides catharsis but embraces messiness. Evelyn and Joy’s reconciliation – and that of the entire family – doesn’t suggest all wounds are healed. Instead, it promises effort, toward healing and toward change.
What Everything Everywhere All At Once expresses so ecstatically, on top of its larger, winking message of optimistic nihilism, is that if humanity wants to feel less small and shitty, we need to stop doing small and shitty things. And if seeing into the infinite and ever-expanding multiverse should make anything about humanity feel small and shitty, it’s our prejudices.
Statistically speaking, according to the film’s idealistic logic, we’ll eventually learn to break cycles of conflict, open our minds to others’ humanity, and resist our worst natures in solidarity. Even if that horizon seems distant right now, maybe, just maybe, we’ll reach it one day. If we keep trying. If we’re a little kinder.
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Karnadi, Chris. “Asian Men Needed a Movie Like Everything Everywhere All at Once.” Slate. 18 April 12022.
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Legislation Affecting LGBTQ Rights Across the Country. ACLU. Updated 6 May 2022.
Ravenscraft, Eric. “Everything Everywhere All at Once Perfects Optimistic Nihilism.” WIRED. 24 March 2022.
Ryan, Patrick. “’Everything Everywhere All At Once‘ is an emotional gut punch about queer erasure, acceptance.” USA Today. 12 April 12022.
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