By: Owen Black, Contributing Writer
Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
Despite all its forward-thinking elements, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” opens with a flashback. Evelyn Wang sings karaoke with her husband and daughter, the whole family enjoying life to its fullest. This heartening establishing shot, portrayed through the reflection of a mirror, is soon shattered by the current, chaotic existence of Evelyn and her family.
The complex drama that “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is based upon takes shape in the form of divorce papers, tax audits, and mounds of interpersonal conflicts. Evelyn’s personal lack of fulfillment, her dying spark with her husband, her father’s lack of approval, and, most importantly, her tumultuous relationship with her daughter all feel like a weight on the viewer’s shoulders. But perhaps that’s what the opening shot told us we were in for. After all, this multiverse movie is not of the superhero ilk; it is nothing if not a family drama.
That is why the “Everything Everywhere All at Once” introduction to the multiverse feels so breathtaking, and so confusing. Wacky action and the aged tale of saving the universe replace the complex realism of the film. Subsequently, the viewer is thrown into the stark cinematic styles of each universe, the bombastic editing to cut between them, and the sharp humor and gravitas that tie all the pieces together. And what a ride it becomes.
The balancing act of tone to action to heart is somehow matched by the visuals, creating one of the most entertaining cinema experiences you can find. For critical film viewers, however, this entertainment can be concerning. With so many layers of narrative added in succession, the original drama appears lost, and it feels as though the script’s validity begins to wane. Fret not, because the patient viewer is rewarded with the knowledge that the script never falters, but in fact emerges as one of the most perfect scripts ever realized.
Upon reflection, one recognizes that the multiverse of “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is not simply an avenue for entertainment or heroism; it is a deep and rich storytelling device. Existentialism, nihilism, love, family, generational bias, regret, and much more are all explored on Evelyn’s journey through the multiverse.
Her search for her daughter leads to many of these themes, but the other characters’ journeys result in separate revelations for the viewers and plot alike. And as comparatively unreal the multiverse can seem held up against the drama that precedes it, would we all not feel helpless, lost, and even nihilistic facing the erasure of our meaning to life? Would discovering the possibilities of alternate paths and careers not lead to anger, shame, and eventual enlightenment?
Without Evelyn’s experience of the multiverse, the Daniels’ could not have explored these questions so effectively, so thoroughly. Furthermore, Evelyn’s journey offers both herself and the viewer a new answer to the meaning of life, one that can be found in the title itself.
In the end, sea-like-depths of emotion and a climax for the ages still fail to hold a candle to the film’s final act. For it is not until the end that the smoke truly clears, and the Daniels’ brilliance is revealed. The high-octane method of storytelling the viewers have grown accustomed to finally has a chance to breathe. Against all odds, the drama returns.
With a smile I say that, upon days of reflection, every single storyline introduced in “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is resolved. With a joyful laugh I say that the Daniels approach an intricate family drama, take the most convoluted route in which to tell it, and succeed. The result is one of the most flawless examples of storytelling to date, and it demands to be seen.