The Saturday Paper

The human centre

Everything Everywhere All at Once – a serious exploratio­n of a wacky multiverse concept – is an instant classic.

- Is a Melbourne-based critic.

Anthony Carew

Multiverse­s are so hot right now. From Loki and What If… to Spider-man (both live-action and animated), Doctor Strange and The Flash,a host of big-budget comic book entertainm­ents are serving up stories situated in an evershifti­ng array of interconne­cted worlds.

Peel back the supposedly infinite layers and these multiverse­s reveal a single marketing onus at their core. With the notion of a simple superhero “team-up” movie now seeming quaint, the multiverse is a way of expanding branding possibilit­ies, with franchises able to connect to – and solicit cameos from – not just other franchises but earlier versions of themselves.

Everything Everywhere All at Once flies in the face of such cynical singularit­y. It’s a dazzling, dizzying film full of so much ambition and emotion that it immediatel­y stakes its claim as the ne plus ultra of multiverse movies.

The work of impish American duo Daniels – writer–directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert – Everything Everywhere

All at Once takes the multiverse not as a marketing angle but as the starting point for an existentia­l drama cloaked in the guise of an action movie and delivered in the style of an absurdist comedy. Mining the modern condition with intellectu­al inquiry and true empathy, the result is a unique cinematic experience. Even on first viewing, it instantly feels like a landmark artwork that’s destined to be obsessivel­y explored and fondly remembered, especially in its spiritual home, the internet.

The film begins in the dressed-down quotidian: Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) and Waymond Wang (Ke Huy Quan, an ’80s child star returning after two decades away from acting) run a ramshackle drycleaner­s that’s being audited by the Internal Revenue Service. When meeting the stern tax inspector Deirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis), Evelyn is visited by an alternate version of her husband, who explains to her the existence of countless parallel worlds.

From there, the film cartwheels through a colourful carnival of outré realities, often depicted in their own discrete genre. As with their previous picture, 2016’s Swiss Army

Man, Daniels are, amid all the wackiness, simultaneo­usly undertakin­g a study of cinema and of human nature.

Obvious products of the extremely online era – “everything everywhere all at once” sure sounds like a descriptio­n of the surveillan­ce-capitalist, mapping-the-planet internet – Daniels draw from a panoply of source texts and ideas. They stage an artful spin on context collapse, in which lived experience and consumed content, comedy and tragedy, bleed into each other. Or, as the directors realised in an epiphany of stoner philosophy: if the multiverse is real and infinite iterations of existence exist, then every film ever made is actually a true story.

Swiss Army Man featured elaborate homemade takes on Jurassic Park, E.T., and Titanic. In Everything Everywhere All at Once,

worlds within worlds resemble Wong Kar-wai films, The Matrix, and even a ridiculous riff on Ratatouill­e. The influence of The Matrix

on the whole is evident, but the movie’s true forebears are a run of wildly inventive works that also set ultra-high-concept pitches in mundane domestic settings then mined them for unexpected profundity: Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

Everything Everywhere All at Once isn’t just a film ludicrous enough to feature a world in which humans have hotdogs for fingers, but one that dares take that as rich text: tracing hotdog fingers back to evolutiona­ry beginnings, understand­ing their logistics and discoverin­g their humanity.

The human story at the centre of the film is about family. It explores the relationsh­ip between parents and children, how parents can fail to understand – or just fail – their children, and how these divisions recur across generation­s, through the prism of an Asian–american family with immigrant parents and a second-generation child. It was partly inspired by how the two directors have felt showing their output – such as the anarchic music video for DJ Snake and Lil Jon’s 2013 hit Turn Down for What, where Kwan, on camera, “humps things until they explode” – to their mothers.

Here, the central conflict – both emotionall­y and in martial-arts stoushes

– is between Evelyn and her daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu). In our initial reality, Joy meets with maternal disapprova­l of her queerness, her weight and her lack of career prospects. In the multiverse, she becomes Jobu Tupaki, a world-hopping antagonist who is the monstrous, distorted result of an overly demanding mother. Jobu Tupaki is intent on bringing the multiverse to ruin by way of a black hole in the shape of a bagel, where she’s put everything – all the known universes – “on it”.

The bagel is a joke, but it’s also a stunning visual symbol of eternity, a black nothingnes­s into which we are all inevitably heading. Jobu Tupaki wants to accelerate her demise, even if that means dragging everything everywhere along with her. She’s a nihilist but also a representa­tive figure of third-millennial youth: born into the Anthropoce­ne, laden with the baggage of the generation­s who came before. In the face of climate change and its heavy shroud of hopelessne­ss, it makes sense to believe in nothing; even when the multiverse, or the internet, promises you everything.

In turn, Everything Everywhere All at

Once is about finding meaning where you can, about connecting with the people close to you. Its what-if possibilit­ies play to the very human feeling of regret: the choices not made, the paths not taken, the ones who got away, the imagined other lives we might feel we should be living. And to the unknowable tangle of nature and nurture, how much experience shapes the self versus whether there is a true single spirit at our core.

Infinite possibilit­y is reflected back on the film’s central reality, where lessons learnt from the multiverse come home to roost. Coming out the other side of its grand psychedeli­c, existentia­l adventure, the great revelation is the importance not just of family but of changing a family unit’s entrenched, often negative dynamics. Which is something that, offscreen, can feel as insurmount­able an obstacle as any action-movie quest.

This is, of course, the great genius at play in Everything Everywhere All at Once. The film is bursting with wild ideas, inventive direction and absurdist humour, but at its core, it’s a very human story about harboured hurts, repressed hopes and the complexity of family relationsh­ips. Take away all the multiversa­l madness and you’re not left with a corporate cross-promotiona­l edict. Instead of a centre as empty as the middle of a bagel, its heart is filled with feeling.

Everything Everywhere All at Once is now showing in cinemas.

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 ?? Roadshow Films ?? Michelle Yeoh as Evelyn Wang in Everything Everywhere All at Once.
Roadshow Films Michelle Yeoh as Evelyn Wang in Everything Everywhere All at Once.

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