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Everything Everywhere All At Once: dizzyingly surreal
Film review

Everything Everywhere All At Once: dizzyingly surreal

by Tómas Atli Einarsson 3 min. 28.07.2022 From our online archive
This film requires a certain kind of open-mindedness in order to let its cosmic absurdism take hold, says Tom Einarsson
Evelyn Wang, a recent immigrant to the US, is portrayed fantastically by Michelle Yeoh
Evelyn Wang, a recent immigrant to the US, is portrayed fantastically by Michelle Yeoh
Photo credit: Official trailer screenshot

It’s nearly impossible to sum up Everything Everywhere All At Once in a few sentences. Directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (known together simply as Daniels), it is a vertigo-inducing, multidimensional, but also a deeply personal insight into the immigrant experience and life on the edge of destitution. 

Dreaming of what could have been, far from being a form of escapism from a life of hard work and futility, suddenly becomes a window into a multiverse built on self-reflection and surrealism. 

Evelyn Wang, a recent immigrant to the US and portrayed fantastically by Michelle Yeoh, has fallen on hard times. Her laundromat is struggling and she is being audited by the IRS for a string of unwise tax write-offs. Her husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), isn’t much help either. He can’t seem to take the situation seriously and can’t help but hold onto a vain sense of optimism. Evelyn’s stress is compounded by the arrival of her father from China (James Hong) and her daughter (Stephanie Hsu), who desperately wants her family to accept her as a lesbian woman. 

So far, so good. The film follows certain genre beats familiar to films dealing with the immigrant experience, the looming threat of poverty and family dysfunction in the face of it all. Stress piles up in heaps as Evelyn desperately tries to figure out tax forms, handle her elderly father, wrangle her deeply unhappy daughter while harbouring a lingering resentment for her husband. 

But somewhere in this flurry of the laundromat owner’s reality, things fall apart. Cracks appear in the fabric of time and space (as well as on the screen) as an alternate version of Waymond - from another timeline - reveals the truth to Evelyn. Everything Everywhere All At Once’s laundromat realism quickly turns into dizzying surrealism. 

Performing extremely statistically unlikely actions, such as eating previously-chewed chewing gum or professing love to someone currently trying to kill her, allows Evelyn to tap into alternate realities where she becomes a kung fu master or movie star. 

This turn towards the surreal and downright absurd doesn’t take away from the more meaningful and personal aspect of the Wangs’ story. The possibility of the multiverse - or at least Daniels’ version of it - at once opens up a whole swath of possibility, with Evelyn discovering that her life with Waymond in the US is the worst choice she could have made. But this also gives her her power and is the reason why she (of all possible Evelyns) was chosen. 

But this tearing of the fabric of reality into the realm of possibility doesn’t just say a lot about what could have been. It also suggests that which should be. Despite the existential vertigo which Everything Everywhere All At Once induces in both story and style, it makes sense. A rapid-fire collage of every one of Evelyn’s lives at once will resonate with those that might feel themselves entrapped by economic and social circumstance and with those who can’t seem to find a foothold in their own timeline. 

Much of the criticism drawn by the film has been aimed at its almost bewildering approach to alternate realities. But the absurdism of every possible reality, complete with universes where people have sausages for hands and where talking raccoons make for great chefs, is precisely the point. 

The mundane reality which the ‘original’ Evelyn finds herself in is made all the more ridiculous - but no less heartfelt - when it becomes just another piece of the multiverse-sized puzzle. Everything Everywhere All At Once requires a certain kind of open-mindedness in order to let its cosmic absurdism take hold. 

It’s a welcome break from linear filmmaking that can be talked about with friends for ages. It’s just as much a fun exercise in surreal humour and style as it is an examination of the inane ridiculousness of everyday life. And for those open to the experience and receptive to a uniquely surreal brand of sci fi humour, it’ll make you wish for a timeline in which you could see it again for the first time.

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