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Everything Everywhere All At Once

A Review

by Alvin G. Burstein, PhD

Spring break at the University of Texas at Austin has become the occasion for a conglomeration  of presentations of interactive media, music and films called South by Southwest. Five films  were featured at the 2022 festival. One, Everything Everywhere All At Once, dominated the  awards, winning Best Picture, Best Director (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert), Best Actress  (Michelle Yeoh), Best Supporting Actor (Ke Huy Quan), Best Screenplay (The “Daniels” again) and Best Indie Film.

I watched the film on Amazon Prime. It’s a wild, wild ride. Over two hours of special effects whipping the viewer through multiple alternate universes of the same set of characters and a complex set of realities threatened by possible total collapse of the entire multi-verse system  being sucked into the black hole of a cosmic everything bagel.

That blend of self-mockery and high style science fiction physics is a heady blend that kept me  engaged for the two-hours plus screening.

The film has three parts. In the first part we meet  Evelyn Wong, who with her husband,  Waymond, run a laundromat struggling with an IRS audit, cultural conflicts with their teenage  daughter, Joy, who wants them to accept her lesbian attachment to a non-oriental partner,  topped off by an impending visitor from China, Evelyn’s highly traditional and very critical father, Cong Gong.

While Waymond and Evelyn are meeting with the IRS auditor,cwho is irritated and impatient  with Evelyn’s disorganized stacks of papers, Waymond’s body is taken over by a visitor, Alpha Waymond, from another universe, called the Alphaverse. He tries to explain to a bewildered  Evelyn that the people of the Alpha universe have developed techniques to jump from one  universe to another. Alpha Evelyn’s daughter, Alpha Joy, driven to excessive verse-jumping by  her mother, now has a splintered mind. She has become Jobu Tupaki and can verse jump and  manipulate physical matter at will. She has also created the everything bagel that has the  potential to destroy the entire multiverse.

Alpha Waymond believes that Evelyn, the least impressive of the many Evelyns in the  multiverse, has the potential to defeat Jobu Tupaki. Alpha Cong Gong urges Evelyn to kill Joy in  order to disable Jobu Tupaki. Evelyn, however, decides that she must verse-jump in order to  acquire the ability to confront Jobu Tupaki directly. In a series of jumps Evelyn battles minions of both Jobu Tupaki and Alpha Cong. When Alpha Waymond is killed by Jobu Tupaki, Evelyn’s mind splinters.

In part 2, Evelyn discovers a variety of strange universes. She finally defeats the minions of both  Alpha Cong Gong and Jobu Tupaki, not with a display of her mastery of martial arts. Recalling an occasion on which Waymond had called for kindness and hope, she defeats her enemies by  empathic openness to the source of their pain, thereby offering them relief.

In part three, we revisit the family in their home universe and find them, not transformed, but  more content.

In one sense, this film feels like a revved up romantic comedy. The characters are more flawed than admirable, and boy loses girl, finds girl. It adds a dollop of L. Frank Baum.  Dorothy, too, wanders into the surreal wonderland of Oz, defeating evil witches, only to learn there’s no place like home


A Review

by Alvin G. Burstein, PhD

The heroic comedy Cyrano de Bergerac, written by Edmond Rostand in 1897, has had a  remarkable impact. Coquelin starred in the original 1897 stage version at Theatre de la Port  Saint-Martin in Paris. His performance was a triumph; the audience applauded for over an hour  after the final curtain. The enthusiasm led to a yearlong run for the play, and then beginning in 1900, ten subsequent movie versions, the first of which also starred Coquelin.

Anna Freud has  been quoted as saying that, because of its focus on altruism, selfless devotion to others, the  play was her favorite drama. I don’t have any knowledge of her father’s view of Rostand’s play,  but the phenomenon of altruism got its first formal study in psychoanalytic circles in a 1912  paper by Sabina Spielrein, one of the first women psychoanalysts; her view was that love of another, because it is not self-centered, has a masochistic element. Freud acknowledged that  Spielrein’s paper led him to a major revision of his theories: the introduction of a death instinct  in balance with the life instinct of Eros.

The most recent version of Rostand’s play is the 2021  musical romantic drama film, Cyrano, directed by Joe Wright and adapted from Rostand’s play  by Erica Schmidt. Cyrano is played by Peter Drinklage and his beloved Roxanne by Haley  Bennett.

The basic plot echoes its original. The beautiful Roxanne is loved from afar by a Cyrano who is a gifted author and a swordsman to be feared but who sees himself as too ugly to be  loveable. Roxanne falls in love with Christian de Neuvillette, handsome but inarticulate, on the  eve of his joining Cyrano’s troop of musketeers. Roxanne, who has known Cyrano from childhood, begs Cyrano to be Christian’s mentor and protector.

Cyrano stage manages  Christian’s courtship, arranging a hasty marriage that frustrates the effort of the regiment’s  commander to win Roxanne. The enraged commander orders his men to the front in an  ongoing war. On the eve of a final battle, Cyrano ghost-writes a farewell to Roxanne. When  Christian dies in the battle, Cyrano leaves the letter on his compatriot’s body and it finds its way  to his widow, Roxanne. Grief stricken, she consigns herself to a convent, where for three years,  Cyrano pays her a weekly visit. Fatally injured in an assassination attempt, Cyrano makes a final  visit to Roxanne, reminding her of her promise to let him read the farewell purportedly written by Christian. When as night falls, he continues to read the letter aloud in darkness, Roxanne  realizes he, not Christian is its author, and, as Cyrano dies, she announces her love for him: “I have loved but one man in my life, and I have lost him twice.”

This latest revision of the story is  recast as a musical, complete with intricate and complex song and dance scenes. Though they  provide a gauzy, surreal element, they also blunt the intensity of the story’s tragic elements. The film also seems to be a response to the movie industry’s current concerns about lack of  inclusivenesss. The members of Cyrano’s troop are racially diverse. And two of the central characters, Christian and Le Bret, Cyrano’s boon companion, are persons of color. Drinklage,  who plays Cyrano, is a dwarf. His achondroplasia replaces the focus on the large nose sported  by Cyrano’s real life original and represented, sometimes exaggerated, in all the preceding  versions of Rostand’s play. I found myself wondering whether Anna Freud’s focus on altruism  might be blurred by a secondary focus on wokeness.

Previous versions focused on Cyrano’s  white plume. In Rostand’s original French, the word for white plume is panache. Panache has  multiple meanings in French: in addition to referring to a feathered adornment, it can mean style, referring to clothing or modes of behavior. So in his dying words in earlier versions,  Cyrano’s focus on his white plume can be a reference to the role he chose to play. Drinklage’s dying Cyrano talks about pride, not about his white plume.

Nevertheless, in those final moments, as Cyrano died and Roxanne’s loss was doubled, tears came to my eyes.