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