Everything Everywhere All Together
I recently watched Everything Everywhere All At Once — a crazy, chaotic, beautiful mess — and walked out of the theater feeling both overwhelmed and strangely at peace.
This movie is unlike anything I’ve seen before. To put it into words would be like trying to explain colors to someone who can only see black and white. Or tasting gushers for the first time and attempting to figure out all the flavors that just exploded in your mouth. For me, this film felt like an intoxicating fever dream or an intense psychedelic trip, one that will probably keep my brain swirling, stirring, and stimulated for a long time.
The official description from A24’s website describes the new movie as “a hilarious and big-hearted sci-fi action adventure about an exhausted Chinese American woman (Evelyn), who can’t seem to finish her taxes.” It’s a great description that aptly captures the story, but there’s one crucial part missing: it takes place in a bizarre multiverse where Evelyn jumps through various dimensions of reality. The entire time I kept mouthing “WTF?” to my boyfriend, as every plotline and layer grew increasingly stranger.
Yet, despite the absolute insanity of the premise and all the absurd parts in between (I’m talking about you, hot dog hands), there was also something familiar, almost comforting and self-reflective in all the madness. The multiverse that Evelyn and her family live in — as kaleidoscopic and crazy as it appeared on screen — is not too different from the narratives I‘ve conjured in my own brain.
Watching Evelyn step through infinite identities of herself and the dazzling implications of each one, I was reminded of all the times I’ve been paralyzed with indecision or questioning my past choices. I couldn’t help but think:
How do I embrace every version of myself, even the worst ones? And how do I show more grace for not only my mistakes, but also other people’s?
At one of my recent therapy sessions, I asked if it was normal to be frequently nostalgic and revisit/analyze/dissect the past at length. There were so many things I did in my teens and early 20s that I wish I could’ve done differently. Succumbing to peer pressure, wallowing in heartbreak, obsessing over how other people perceived me.
I thought about how efficient and productive I would have been if I were the person I am today — smarter with my time, pickier about who I surround myself with, more grounded in my values. There’s a little voice that repeats in my head: Damn, you’d probably be so much further along.
Gently, my therapist reminded me: “But 21-year-old Alina is not the same as 27-year-old Alina sitting before me. Your prefrontal cortex wasn’t fully formed back then, so why would you punish yourself today for choices made during that time?
She’s absolutely right, but as an extremely nostalgic and sentimental person (the ‘F’ in my MBTI test goes off the charts), I still catch myself re-playing chapters of my life like an old stereo stuck on repeat. Ruminating over the choices I’ve made, I map out fake decision trees in my head, as if selecting a different path would’ve somehow put me on Forbes 30 Under 30 by now. Like Evelyn, I wonder if I have truly maxed out on my full potential, or if there’s some untapped destiny still waiting for me to be realized.
But it seems I am not alone. According to a research study by Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, 90% of people say they have a major regret about something in their lives. Their findings also revealed:
- “Regret” is the second most mentioned emotion after love.
- The more choices we have, the more regret we have about what we chose.
- We feel the most regret about missed chances, and in the long run, we’re more likely to regret things we didn’t do than things we did.
As many of my friends and I approach the age of 30, a common sentiment I’ve noticed has been: we all thought our lives would look a whole lot different by now. It’s interesting how we are still (relatively) young, yet we already examine our current state/realities with the lens of woulda, coulda, shoulda. Maybe if we had studied a different major. Dated someone else. Not dated at all. Moved cross-country to another city. These nagging questions are endless, and the hypotheticals can be both a blessing and a curse — inviting reflection and introspection — but also inescapable feelings of self-doubt.
When I watched Everything Everywhere All At Once, I was also reminded how complicated and convoluted our lives have become in today’s digital age. We’re always bombarded by so many things at once, whether it’s personal (work, family, relationships) or external (news, world events, social media) and now on top of it, we have to see everyone else’s shit too. Thanks, Internet.
Looking back at the last decade, there have been so many versions of myself that I’ve manufactured and manifested — especially online — that I honestly can’t tell how many of them were derived from my own aspirations and desires. More often than not, I felt compelled to do things because of outside pressures or other people’s influences.
Watching Evelyn in Everything Everywhere All At Once, you get to explore alongside her a world of endless potential and possibilities. You see her flourish as a Hollywood celebrity, dabble as a chef in a teppanyaki restaurant, and even contemplate life and existentialism as a sentient rock overlooking the edge of a canyon. But all of these variants, as wild as they appear—they all hold some deep inner truths about her:
- She is capable of loving and being loved.
- As much as she resists, she can overcome life’s challenges with more kindness.
- Her connections to the people she loves (and her unwillingness to let them go) outweigh any fantasy of her ‘best’ self.
When these messages were revealed at the end, I initially found them cheesy and cliché. Rolling my eyes, I groaned, “A24…after this insane roller coaster, this absolute cinematic masterpiece, you want to end it with ‘Kill them with kindness’ and ‘Love conquers all?’ Ughhhh.” These themes are so overused in Hollywood that it felt lazy, almost disrespectful, to conclude such an epic story this way.
Yet, the more I thought about how I related to Evelyn and her relationship with herself, I started to see relevant parallels in her world and ours. At a time when COVID, racism, global warming, and political instability have become constant, inevitable presences in our lives, most people have felt cynical, depressed, and even nihilistic at some point. Yet somehow we’ve marched on.
Evelyn’s colorful multiverse is the ultimate fantasy that reminds us even when everything is going downhill to the depths of hell (or in her case, a desolate bagel), there are always possibilities and things worth fighting for. While it’s tempting to give up, the way we’ve made it through and will continue to make it through is choosing kindness, acceptance, and love. Being kinder to each other, but more importantly, kinder to ourselves.
Not too long ago, I was discussing with one of my good friends what were some of the biggest takeaways and lessons we learned in our 20s. I feel like our answers collectively could’ve been written by Evelyn:
- Say No. Create healthy boundaries for yourself — don’t do things just to please other people or fulfill their expectations.
- Authenticity > Assimilation. Pursue things that bring YOU joy and live a life that feels meaningful to YOU. When you’re true to your values and priorities, you can always unlock new passions, interests, and experiences.
- Have the courage to express your feelings. People aren’t mind-readers, and it’s not their job to guess how you feel. Being honest and forthcoming can prevent miscommunication, and worse, resentment.
- Find beauty in the little things. Even when things are going wrong and the world is going to shit, there’s always something to celebrate and appreciate.
- Everything you need is within you. You are the best version of yourself — no one else is as good at being you as you are, so you might as well embrace it.
Everything Everywhere All At Once is not a superhero movie about how to save the world — it’s about understanding how to be a part of it. Amidst the mayhem, the film stays grounded in its central theme: the importance of human connection and showing compassion for others despite our messy, impermanent lives. Of course, Evelyn doesn’t arrive at these truths right away— it takes a few action-packed trips across the multiverse first— but as she learns to cherish even the most mundane moments of time with her family, so does the audience.
If this film taught me anything, it’s that no matter who you are, or what kind of life you lead, we all face similar challenges and periods of uncertainty. Like Evelyn, we all overthink, overanalyze, and feel overwhelmed. But when we feel it — everything, everywhere, all at once —at least we’re never alone.