Everything Everywhere All at Once

Everything Everywhere All at Once

Everything Everywhere All at Once asks a question that is easy for us to answer: What is the meaning of life?

I have good news for you – nothing matters. Life is meaningless.

This won’t be a surprise to you if you’ve been following along here. A clear-eyed and joyous understanding of Ecclesiastes has been central to our work since Rob Johnston started our theology and film program over twenty years ago. We’ve written whole books on the prevalence of this Biblical perspective at the movies.

In truth, the meaninglessness of life isn’t even that difficult to accept. You don’t need the omni-perspective of a multiverse-jumping mind to grasp the near infinite smallness of our lives and the utter lack of real impact we make on the cosmos. I camped last week beneath granite cliffs that are 105 million years old and at night gazed beyond them at stars whose light began shining 15 billion years ago. Even the sugar pines that occluded my view are six times older than I’ll ever be.

So it’s not difficult to say that life is meaningless, not really, but what is difficult is to decide how you will respond to that fact. What will you do with your meaningless life?

Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) can do whatever she wants, because thanks to some mind-bending, multiversal channel surfing, she can access the skills of the other infinite versions of herself. It takes her a minute to learn this trick, and the way the film introduces her and us to the dynamics of its universe are as delightful as anything we’ve seen in similar superhero genre movies and TV shows recently. Evelyn is initiated by a version of her husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan, giving a performance that is likely to be overlooked next to Yeoh’s star power but which is my favorite in the film), and the initiation serves the audience as well. Hang on, because the style here is more frantic than anything the MCU has dared to do. It’s a lot at first, but you’ll catch up, and the writers/directors known collectively as the Daniels (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) hold off on the truly weird implications of their multiverse until they’ve got you comfortably superpositioned on their quantum train.

Things do get weird. The Daniels are only two features into their collective career, but they are making a name for themselves by creating movies as strange as anything cooked up by that boy in junior high who kept to himself in the corner doodling in his notebook. I was friends with that kid, because I learned that once you got past the oddities, he was a really nice guy who just happened to have an off-kilter sense of humor. Most people try to fit in, to be the same as everyone else. That kid didn’t play that game, maybe because he wasn’t aware of it, or maybe because, like me, he found it boring. I was grateful for the variety he brought to my life, and I’m grateful for the variety the Daniels are bringing to our superhero-saturated cineplexes now.

Everything Everywhere All at Once is a superhero movie, make no mistake. It was even produced by the same people who are responsible for the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s biggest hits, most notably Sarah Haley Finn, whom I’ve long contended ought to get more credit for her part in securing the central tentpole holding up all of Hollywood. She’s credited as the Casting Director for the entire MCU, and for me, the casting is that series’ greatest strength. Anthony and Joe Russo, who helmed the end of the Avengers’ saga (the installments that included time travel and alternate realities) and cut their teeth on the very meta TV show Community are also behind this film.

We haven’t seen an MCU movie as giddily transgressive as Everything Everywhere All at Once though. Leaning into the R-rating allows the Daniels to stage events in a more Deadpool-like fashion, with similar scatalogical and sexual flourishes. Their gags are visual though (unlike Deadpool’s more verbal assaults in accord with Ryan Reynolds’ oral talents), so they are able to linger longer on screen and come back later to pay off in ways you cannot expect. If you think it’s funny at first, you’ll think it’s even funnier later. If you don’t, well, my condolences.

To get back to our central question—it’s easy to get distracted with a movie as peculiar as this one—what are we to do with our meaningless life? If you’ve read Ecclesiastes, you know the answer, but I think to state it here would qualify as a spoiler for Everything Everywhere All at Once, and while there may be a universe in which I spoil with great abandon movies I think you will enjoy, it is not this one. We live in the universe where you’ll have to go to the movies and see it for yourself.

Everything Everywhere All at Once asks a question that is easy for us to answer: What is the meaning of life?

I have good news for you – nothing matters. Life is meaningless.

This won’t be a surprise to you if you’ve been following along here. A clear-eyed and joyous understanding of Ecclesiastes has been central to our work since Rob Johnston started our theology and film program over twenty years ago. We’ve written whole books on the prevalence of this Biblical perspective at the movies.

In truth, the meaninglessness of life isn’t even that difficult to accept. You don’t need the omni-perspective of a multiverse-jumping mind to grasp the near infinite smallness of our lives and the utter lack of real impact we make on the cosmos. I camped last week beneath granite cliffs that are 105 million years old and at night gazed beyond them at stars whose light began shining 15 billion years ago. Even the sugar pines that occluded my view are six times older than I’ll ever be.

So it’s not difficult to say that life is meaningless, not really, but what is difficult is to decide how you will respond to that fact. What will you do with your meaningless life?

Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) can do whatever she wants, because thanks to some mind-bending, multiversal channel surfing, she can access the skills of the other infinite versions of herself. It takes her a minute to learn this trick, and the way the film introduces her and us to the dynamics of its universe are as delightful as anything we’ve seen in similar superhero genre movies and TV shows recently. Evelyn is initiated by a version of her husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan, giving a performance that is likely to be overlooked next to Yeoh’s star power but which is my favorite in the film), and the initiation serves the audience as well. Hang on, because the style here is more frantic than anything the MCU has dared to do. It’s a lot at first, but you’ll catch up, and the writers/directors known collectively as the Daniels (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) hold off on the truly weird implications of their multiverse until they’ve got you comfortably superpositioned on their quantum train.

Things do get weird. The Daniels are only two features into their collective career, but they are making a name for themselves by creating movies as strange as anything cooked up by that boy in junior high who kept to himself in the corner doodling in his notebook. I was friends with that kid, because I learned that once you got past the oddities, he was a really nice guy who just happened to have an off-kilter sense of humor. Most people try to fit in, to be the same as everyone else. That kid didn’t play that game, maybe because he wasn’t aware of it, or maybe because, like me, he found it boring. I was grateful for the variety he brought to my life, and I’m grateful for the variety the Daniels are bringing to our superhero-saturated cineplexes now.

Everything Everywhere All at Once is a superhero movie, make no mistake. It was even produced by the same people who are responsible for the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s biggest hits, most notably Sarah Haley Finn, whom I’ve long contended ought to get more credit for her part in securing the central tentpole holding up all of Hollywood. She’s credited as the Casting Director for the entire MCU, and for me, the casting is that series’ greatest strength. Anthony and Joe Russo, who helmed the end of the Avengers’ saga (the installments that included time travel and alternate realities) and cut their teeth on the very meta TV show Community are also behind this film.

We haven’t seen an MCU movie as giddily transgressive as Everything Everywhere All at Once though. Leaning into the R-rating allows the Daniels to stage events in a more Deadpool-like fashion, with similar scatalogical and sexual flourishes. Their gags are visual though (unlike Deadpool’s more verbal assaults in accord with Ryan Reynolds’ oral talents), so they are able to linger longer on screen and come back later to pay off in ways you cannot expect. If you think it’s funny at first, you’ll think it’s even funnier later. If you don’t, well, my condolences.

To get back to our central question—it’s easy to get distracted with a movie as peculiar as this one—what are we to do with our meaningless life? If you’ve read Ecclesiastes, you know the answer, but I think to state it here would qualify as a spoiler for Everything Everywhere All at Once, and while there may be a universe in which I spoil with great abandon movies I think you will enjoy, it is not this one. We live in the universe where you’ll have to go to the movies and see it for yourself.

Portrait of Fuller Seminary alum Elijah Davidson

Elijah Davidson is Co-Director of Brehm Film and Senior Film Critic. Subscribe to his weekly email series that guides you through film history, Come & See, and find more of his work at elijahdavidson.com.

The Worst Person in the World and The Batman cry for new narratives, for new ways of reaching maturity that don’t depend on childrearing and violence.