Everything Everywhere All at Once: The Meaning of Existence (or the lack thereof)


IN THE eyes of nihilists, existence is futile as they see that one’s choices do not matter in the grand scheme of the universe. For them, there is nothing to anticipate beyond this earthly realm. They anchor on the idea that despite the efforts one does all throughout their life, nothing truly matters in the end.

Written and directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, Everything Everywhere All at Once explores the dynamic of a family with conflicting ideals while tackling the various philosophical views of existence.

It focuses on Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh), an ordinary Chinese-American woman who struggles to balance her duties as a wife, daughter, mother, and business owner. While being audited by the Internal Revenue Service, Evelyn is confronted by another version of her husband Waymond Wang (Ke Huy Quan) from an alternate universe. He warns her about the impending destruction of the multiverse and that she may be their only hope.

photo grabbed from Everything Everywhere All at Once official website

The film features spectacular editing paired with clever cinematography. With several jump cuts and smooth transitions, it highlights the comical aspects of scenes, such as when Waymond from the Alphaverse approached Evelyn in the elevator. The quick cuts of his actions make the scene more engaging and comedic, which is an editing choice present within the entire film.

The film also plays with the aspect ratios to aid the audience as it jumps from one genre to another. This is seen in how the ratios either shrink or grow when the genre shifts from action to drama or any other, cementing the feeling of the film featuring various universes.

In addition, the set design showcases the different universes presented in the film. It allows the audience to be fully immersed in each scene as a lot of detail can be found within them. This is most noticeable in the first scene, where the Wangs’ messy living room is filled with trinkets and traditional Asian home decor, conveying that the house reflects the family’s cultural identity and heritage.

photo grabbed from Everything Everywhere All at Once official website

While its plot ventures the fictional idea of a multiverse, the film captures a realistic depiction of Asian family ties. This is seen through Evelyn and her relationship with her father (James Hong), daughter (Stephanie Hsu), and husband. While Evelyn tries to put up an act to impress her traditional father, her daughter ends up becoming distant while her husband begins to consider filing for a divorce. The main cast’s performance and dynamics with one another throughout the film show the various perspectives of the situation, driving the relatability of the conflict further.

With its genre-jumping nature, the film gives subtle nods to the ideas of nihilism and absurdism through the complexities explaining the existence of the multiverse.

Evelyn’s daughter Jobu embodies the philosophy of nihilism. Following her nihilist ideas, her existence as an unpredictable force causes multiversal destruction. Waymond from the Alphaverse explains that she does not feel remorse towards the people she killed or the realities she changed in other universes. This showcases this nihilist belief of hers further.  However, despite the lack of regard for anything in her path, there is a looming hope for Jobu to find the meaning of life. This is where absurdism comes in.

photo grabbed from Everything Everywhere All at Once official website

Absurdism stems from the belief in nihilism but believes that acceptance is the solution to that idea. While it is often confused with existentialism, which deals with the idea that the meaning of life is dependent on what one person wants it to be, absurdism is different. Absurdists do not try to give life meaning. They accept life’s lack of purpose and continue living as a way to rebel against meaninglessness. They live in the moment and actively move towards living the life they want instead of thinking they will find happiness and contentment elsewhere. The film manifests this idea through Evelyn’s choice to continue living fully in her true universe, no matter how mundane and ordinary it is compared to the other universes.

Although this thought-provoking plot element is interesting, the quickened pace of explanation through exposition might confuse the audience as some details of its philosophical manifestations are easy to miss.

Everything Everywhere All At Once shows that although people’s lives may just be a speck of dust in the infinitely unknown universe, there is more to it than meets the eye. Each fleeting moment may bear no significance in the grand scheme of things, but the choices that people make every day serve as a powerful stance. F

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