"Everything Everywhere All At Once" - Exploring the Philosophical and Thematic Depths of Daniels' film

05 January 2024

"Everything Everywhere All At Once," a film directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, known collectively as Daniels, presents a rich tapestry of philosophical themes intertwined with human emotions and generational experiences.

The film operates on multiple levels, embedding complex ideas like existentialism, nihilism, surrealism, and absurdism within a narrative structure that also touches on neurodivergence, depression, and generational trauma.

This in-depth discussion will explore these themes, drawing examples from the film to elucidate their representation and impact.

Existentialism and The Multiverse

Existentialism, at its core, deals with the notion of individual freedom and the inherent responsibility that comes with it. This philosophical theme is intricately woven throughout the film, particularly through the journey of its protagonist, Evelyn Wang, portrayed with nuanced depth by Michelle Yeoh.

Existential Freedom and Individual Agency

In existential philosophy, individuals are seen as the architects of their own lives, with their essence not predetermined but rather shaped by their choices and actions. Evelyn's character embodies this principle. As she navigates through various universes, each version of her life represents a different path her life could have taken, contingent upon her choices.

In one universe, Evelyn is a renowned movie star, living a life of glamour and fame, a stark contrast to her reality as a laundromat owner. This dichotomy not only highlights the diverse possibilities of existence but also points to the existential question of identity.

Who is the real Evelyn?

Is it the successful actress, the struggling business owner, or perhaps the version of her that never left China?
    These alternate realities underscore the existentialist view that identity is not fixed but is instead an ongoing project shaped by individual choices.

The Burden of Choice

A central theme in existentialism is the burden that freedom of choice imposes on individuals. Every choice leads to a set of consequences, and with the multiverse, this concept is magnified to an almost overwhelming degree.

As Evelyn encounters her other selves, she is faced with the realization of what could have been. The film brilliantly portrays this through its imaginative storytelling and visual effects, where the boundaries of each universe bleed into one another. In the universe where she is a chef, we see a version of Evelyn that pursued a passion for cooking, suggesting a life of creative fulfillment as opposed to the financial struggles and familial duties she faces in her primary universe.

Existentialist Despair and Meaning

Another aspect of existentialism is the confrontation with absurdity and the search for meaning in a seemingly meaningless world. In "Everything Everywhere All At Once," this is depicted through Evelyn's growing sense of despair as she grapples with the vastness and complexity of the multiverse.

Throughout her journey, Evelyn is overwhelmed by the sheer number of lives she could have led. This leads to a form of existential crisis, where the abundance of choice paradoxically makes her feel insignificant in the grand scheme of the multiverse. Yet, it is through this crisis that the film delves into the heart of existentialism – the search for personal meaning. Evelyn's journey becomes a metaphor for the human quest to find purpose in a world where traditional structures and narratives no longer offer clear guidance.

    Nihilism and The Absurdity of Existence in "Everything Everywhere All At Once"

    Nihilismintin "Everything Everywhere All At Once" is not just a theme; it's a narrative and visual force that propels the film into a realm where traditional notions of meaning and purpose are constantly questioned and often negated. The film’s portrayal of nihilism is intertwined with the concept of absurdity, painting a picture of a universe (or multiverse) where randomness and chaos seem to be the only constants.
    The film’s narrative structure, characterized by rapid, often disorienting shifts between universes, mirrors the unpredictability and perceived pointlessness of existence as viewed through a nihilistic lens. In this setting, each universe presents a reality that is absurdly different from the others, challenging the notion of a singular, meaningful narrative of life.
    The multiverse in the film does not follow any discernible logic or order. This randomness is a visual and thematic representation of the nihilistic belief that life lacks inherent structure or meaning. The disjointed nature of the narrative, where events and circumstances change abruptly, serves to disorient both the characters and the audience, leading to a sense of existential dislocation.

    Jobu Tupaki: Nihilism Personified

    Jobu Tupaki, an alternate universe version of Evelyn's daughter Joy, is the embodiment of the film's exploration of nihilism. Overwhelmed by the infinite possibilities and outcomes of the multiverse, Jobu Tupaki arrives at a nihilistic perspective, seeing all of existence as meaningless.

    Jobu Tupaki’s character is a poignant illustration of the psychological impact of confronting endless possibilities without finding personal significance in any of them. Her journey through the multiverse leads her to a state of existential paralysis, where the abundance of choice and outcome negates the value of any single choice or outcome.

    Her response to this overwhelming sense of meaninglessness is a descent into apathy and destruction. Jobu Tupaki’s actions are driven by a belief that nothing truly matters, which in turn leads her to disrupt the multiverse in ways that are both creatively chaotic and deeply tragic. This character arc speaks to the darker implications of nihilism: when life is seen as inherently meaningless, traditional moral frameworks and considerations of consequence can become irrelevant.

    Absurdism in Visual Storytelling

    The film’s visual style complements its nihilistic narrative. The absurdity of the multiverse is rendered through imaginative and often bizarre imagery, which serves to reinforce the theme of meaninglessness.

    The film employs surreal and often nonsensical visual elements (such as characters with hotdog fingers or an entire universe operating under movie-logic) to underline the absurdity of a universe devoid of inherent meaning. These creative choices not only add an element of humor and whimsy but also serve as a metaphor for the unpredictable and often incomprehensible nature of existence as perceived through a nihilistic worldview.

Surrealism and Visual Imagery in "Everything Everywhere All At Once"

The use of surrealism in "Everything Everywhere All At Once" plays a pivotal role in amplifying the film's thematic depth and narrative complexity. Surrealism, an artistic and literary movement that seeks to release the creative potential of the unconscious mind, often by juxtaposing irrational images, is adeptly employed in the film to explore the intricacies of human existence and perception.

Visual Surrealism as a Window to the Psyche

The film uses surreal imagery not just as a tool for visual engagement but as a means to delve into the human psyche. Surrealism in art often aims to disrupt the ordinary, to bring forth the strange and the fantastical, and the film does this with aplomb.

sausages as fingers - the absurdity of everything everywhere

The surreal elements of the film often serve as metaphors for the internal struggles and emotional states of the characters. For instance, the universe where characters have hot dogs for fingers might initially seem purely comical, but it also symbolizes the absurdity and unpredictability of life in the multiverse.

It's a visual representation of how reality can be distorted, how the familiar can become bizarre, reflecting the often disorienting experience of grappling with one's identity and choices.

Surrealism in Conveying the Multiverse

The concept of the multiverse in the film is inherently surreal. The idea that multiple, vastly different realities exist simultaneously and can be accessed and experienced is a surreal concept in itself.

Each universe in the film is presented with its unique surreal characteristics. Besides the hot-dog fingers universe, other examples include a universe where characters are rocks with googly eyes, and one where the characters exist in a 2D world. These imaginative and whimsical portrayals challenge the viewers' perceptions of reality and normalcy, inviting them to reconsider their understanding of existence and consciousness.

Surreal Imagery and the Absurd

The use of surreal imagery in the film is closely linked to the theme of absurdity. The absurd, in a philosophical sense, arises from the human tendency to seek inherent value and meaning in life and the inability to find any in a chaotic, indifferent universe.

The surreal elements in "Everything Everywhere All At Once" visually manifest this philosophical concept. The absurdity of situations, like an intense action sequence where characters are hindered by their hot-dog fingers, not only adds an element of humor but also underscores the inherent absurdity in searching for meaning in a universe that is constantly shifting and inherently unpredictable.

Surrealism as a Narrative Device

Finally, surrealism in the film serves as an essential narrative device. It aids in the storytelling by visually representing complex themes and ideas in a manner that is both engaging and thought-provoking.

The film uses its surreal elements to tell a story that is emotionally resonant and philosophically rich. The bizarre visuals are not just for spectacle; they are integral to the narrative, helping to convey the film's exploration of themes like identity, choice, and the human condition in a visually impactful way.

Absurdism and Human Struggle in "Everything Everywhere All At Once"

"Everything Everywhere All At Once" deeply engages with the theme of absurdism, a philosophy that holds that human beings exist in a purposeless, chaotic universe and that any search for meaning is inherently contradictory. This theme is intricately woven throughout the film, particularly through the experiences of its protagonist, Evelyn Wang.

Absurdism and the Multiverse

In the film, the multiverse serves as the perfect backdrop for exploring absurdism. The existence of infinite universes with infinite possibilities inherently implies a lack of singular purpose or meaning.

Evelyn's journey through these diverse universes exposes her to a range of experiences that are simultaneously bewildering, contradictory, and seemingly pointless. From being a movie star to a world where she never left China, each universe presents a reality that is radically different and independent of the others. This multiplicity echoes the core tenet of absurdism – the absence of a singular, universal meaning or purpose.

And as for that raccoon fellow. Where have we seen that before?

Evelyn's Quest for Meaning

Evelyn's journey is a poignant illustration of the human struggle against the absurd. Her journey through the multiverse becomes a metaphorical quest for meaning in a reality where traditional notions of purpose and significance are constantly challenged and undermined.

As Evelyn confronts the various versions of her life, she grapples with questions about her own identity, choices, and values. This search is reflective of the human desire to find personal significance in an indifferent universe. The absurdity lies in the fact that in a multiverse with endless possibilities, any notion of objective or universal meaning becomes untenable.

The Absurd Hero

The concept of the "absurd hero," as defined by philosopher Albert Camus, is someone who recognizes the absurdity of the human condition but continues to search for meaning despite this. Evelyn embodies this concept throughout the film.

Evelyn's refusal to succumb to despair or nihilism in the face of the absurd multiverse aligns with the idea of the absurd hero. Her continuous effort to make sense of her experiences, to maintain her relationships, and to find some form of personal fulfillment, despite the chaotic and purposeless nature of the multiverse, is a form of rebellion against the absurd.

The Role of Absurdism in Human Connection

The film also uses absurdism to explore the theme of human connection. In an absurd universe, personal relationships can become a source of subjective meaning.

Evelyn's interactions with her family, especially her daughter Joy, become central to her journey. In a multiverse where everything seems arbitrary and meaningless, the film suggests that the connections we form with others can provide a sense of purpose and meaning, albeit a subjective one. This is especially evident in the way Evelyn's relationship with Joy evolves, as they navigate the complexities of their individual and shared experiences across different universes.

Neurodivergence and Perception in "Everything Everywhere All At Once"

"Everything Everywhere All At Once" subtly integrates the theme of neurodivergence through its characterization and narrative, particularly in the portrayal of Joy/Jobu Tupaki. Neurodivergence typically refers to variations in the human brain regarding sociability, learning, attention, mood, and other mental functions. 

In the film, this concept is explored through the unique perception and abilities that Joy/Jobu Tupaki exhibits in relation to the multiverse.

Joy/Jobu Tupaki: A Neurodivergent Perspective

Joy/Jobu Tupaki's character is a complex representation of neurodivergence. Her interaction with and understanding of the multiverse are distinctly different from other characters, suggesting an alternative cognitive processing.

Joy’s perception of the multiverse is not limited to the linear or the logical. She is able to perceive and navigate the endless possibilities and connections within the multiverse in a way that others cannot. This heightened perception can be interpreted as a form of neurodivergence, where her brain functions in a manner that is significantly different from the neurotypical.

The Dual Nature of Neurodivergence

The film portrays neurodivergence as both a gift and a burden, reflecting the complex realities faced by neurodivergent individuals.

Joy’s ability to see the vast array of possibilities in the multiverse provides her with a unique insight into the nature of existence. This ability allows her to connect dots that others might not even see, offering her a profound understanding of the interconnectedness of life.

However, this same ability also isolates her and becomes a source of overwhelm. The constant barrage of possibilities and outcomes can be mentally and emotionally taxing. This aspect of her character reflects the challenges that many neurodivergent individuals face – the feeling of being overwhelmed by sensory inputs or thought processes that are different from the majority.

Neurodivergence and Emotional Complexity

The film delves into the emotional landscape of neurodivergence through Joy/Jobu Tupaki. Her character’s journey is marked by a struggle to find her place in a world that does not fully understand or accommodate her way of perceiving reality.

Joy’s experiences in the multiverse, particularly her interactions with her mother Evelyn, highlight the challenges of seeking acceptance and understanding. Her neurodivergent perspective makes her interactions with her family and the world complex and often fraught, mirroring the experiences of many neurodivergent individuals in society.

The Metaphorical Representation of Neurodivergence

In a broader sense, the film uses the concept of the multiverse as a metaphor for the neurodivergent experience.

The way the multiverse operates – with its non-linear progression, its multitude of realities, and its inherent unpredictability – can be seen as a metaphor for the neurodivergent mind. It challenges the conventional, linear way of thinking and presents an alternative way of understanding and interacting with the world.

Depression and Emotional Turmoil in "Everything Everywhere All At Once"

"Everything Everywhere All At Once" delves deeply into the nuanced portrayal of depression, particularly as it intersects with generational trauma and the immigrant experience. The film presents these themes with a realism that resonates with many, capturing the often subtle and internalized nature of emotional turmoil.

Depression in the Context of Generational Trauma

The film's exploration of depression is intrinsically linked with the concept of generational trauma. Generational trauma refers to the transmission of trauma from one generation to the next, where the impacts of significant stress or adversity are passed down.

Evelyn, the protagonist, carries the weight of not only her struggles but also those inherited from her father and passed on to her daughter. This representation of generational trauma highlights how depression can be a cumulative burden, compounded by the unaddressed pains of previous generations. The film portrays this through the lens of an immigrant family, where the pressures of adaptation, cultural dissonance, and the struggle to maintain familial connections across cultural divides add layers to the characters' emotional struggles.

Waymond's Subtle Struggle with Depression

Waymond, Evelyn's husband, serves as a poignant example of a character who, despite his outward positivity, grapples with internalized depression. His character challenges the stereotypical portrayal of depression, offering a more nuanced understanding.

Waymond's consistent positivity and kindness mask an undercurrent of sadness and emotional fatigue. This portrayal is significant as it reflects the reality of many individuals who struggle with depression quietly, often overlooked due to their outward demeanor. The film subtly suggests that Waymond’s eternal optimism is, in part, a coping mechanism for his internal struggles, reflecting the complexities of dealing with depression and emotional turmoil.

The Intersection of Depression and Immigrant Experience

The film also addresses how the immigrant experience can exacerbate feelings of depression and isolation. The unique challenges faced by immigrant families often go unrecognized in mainstream discussions about mental health.

Evelyn’s experiences as an immigrant add a profound layer to her character's emotional journey. The pressure to succeed, the sense of loss and disconnection from one's cultural roots, and the struggle to balance traditional values with the realities of life in a new country are all factors that contribute to her emotional turmoil. The film portrays these aspects with empathy, shedding light on the specific ways in which the immigrant experience can intersect with and intensify feelings of depression.

Depression and Its Many Faces

"Everything Everywhere All At Once" also highlights the varied faces of depression. It shows that depression does not manifest in a uniform way; it is a complex and multifaceted condition that affects individuals differently.

Through its characters, the film explores different manifestations of depression, from Evelyn's sense of overwhelm and fatigue to Waymond's quiet internal struggle. This multifaceted portrayal helps in destigmatizing depression, showing it as a complex and deeply personal experience that goes beyond common stereotypes and simplifications.

In expanding upon the theme of depression and emotional turmoil in "Everything Everywhere All At Once," the film offers a profound and empathetic exploration of these often-misunderstood conditions. It delves into the intersections of depression with generational trauma and the immigrant experience, presenting a rich tapestry of emotional experiences that resonate with many viewers. Through its nuanced characters and their intricate emotional journeys, the film provides valuable insight into the complexities of depression and the importance of understanding and empathy in addressing it.

Generational Trauma and Family Dynamics in "Everything Everywhere All At Once"

"Everything Everywhere All At Once" offers a poignant exploration of generational trauma and its impact on family dynamics, delving into the complexities of how trauma is transmitted across generations and influences relationships and individual identities.

The Legacy of Generational Trauma

Generational trauma in the film is depicted as an invisible thread that connects the family members, influencing their actions, decisions, and perceptions of themselves and each other.

Evelyn's character is a vivid representation of someone who carries the trauma passed down from her father, Gong Gong. This trauma is not just emotional but is also tied to cultural expectations and the immigrant experience, creating a complex tapestry of pressures and responsibilities that Evelyn struggles to navigate. Her father's experiences, expectations, and unfulfilled aspirations indirectly shape her worldview and her sense of self, leading to internal conflicts and a sense of inadequacy.

Similarly, Joy inherits not only the trauma from her mother but also the compounded effects of it being filtered through the lens of an immigrant family trying to find its footing in a new culture. This generational passage of trauma manifests in Joy's feelings of alienation, misunderstanding, and her own internal battles with identity and belonging.

The Cycle of Expectations and Misunderstandings

The film deftly portrays how expectations and misunderstandings play a crucial role in perpetuating generational trauma.

Evelyn's relationship with her father is marked by unspoken expectations and a lack of emotional communication. These unspoken expectations create a barrier between them, leading to misunderstandings and a sense of disconnection. Evelyn, in turn, unconsciously imposes similar expectations on Joy, perpetuating the cycle of trauma.

The generational gap between Evelyn, Joy, and Gong Gong is widened by cultural and personal misunderstandings. Each character's inability to fully understand the experiences and perspectives of the others adds to the familial strain, highlighting how generational trauma is often exacerbated by a lack of effective communication and empathy.

Healing and Understanding

Towards the end of the film, there is a shift towards healing and understanding within the family, offering a hopeful perspective on addressing generational trauma.

The journey of Evelyn, Joy, and Gong Gong culminates in a greater understanding and acceptance of each other's experiences and traumas. This understanding is key to breaking the cycle of generational trauma. The film suggests that healing is possible through empathy, open communication, and a willingness to confront and understand the deep-seated roots of familial pain.

In conclusion, "Everything Everywhere All At Once" is a cinematic exploration of multiple philosophical themes, presenting them through a unique narrative structure and visual style. The film's ability to intertwine these complex ideas with a story about family, identity, and the human experience makes it a profound piece of modern cinema. Its exploration of existentialism, nihilism, surrealism, absurdism, and themes like neurodivergence, depression, and generational trauma, provides viewers with a rich, multilayered experience that invites introspection and discussion.


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