If I invited you to a movie about a laundromat owner undergoing a tax audit, you’d probably ask me to stop inviting you to watch boring movies.
But what if I told you the movie explores philosophy through the multiverse?
Yes, they’re the same movie.
Evelyn Wang lives a stressful life. The IRS is hounding the family laundromat; she’s needing to prepare food for her ever-ungrateful father; her daughter, Joy, despises her; and her husband, Waymond, is thinking of filing for divorce.
But if she thought it couldn’t get any more stressful, well, she’s wrong. Because suddenly, Waymond starts acting erratically. He informs her that the multiverse is real, an evil being known as the Jobu Tupaki is seeking to kill and destroy everything in it and the laundromat-owning Evelyn is the only one who can stop it.
“I’m not your husband,” Waymond tells her. “I’m another version of him from another universe. I’m here because we need your help.”
“Very busy today,” Evelyn tells him, “I have no time to help you.”
But when everyone around her suddenly seems to have nothing better to do that to hunt her down and kill her, Evelyn quickly realizes that she doesn’t have a choice in the matter.
[Spoilers are contained in this section] Evelyn’s husband Waymond (all versions of him, actually) shows an unrelenting positivity that is unmatched by any other character in the film. Though it initially appears that Waymond is simply another rehash of the happy-go-lucky dumb husband trope that pervades many movies and TV shows, we learn the real reason for his joy: he uses it as a way to survive.
The movie introduces us to a nihilistic argument: Nothing matters, so what’s the point of living? Waymond’s contagious joy is used to fight against this idea. And throughout the movie, Evelyn discovers that his contentment in all circumstances is often more effective at dealing with their problems than her style of battening down the hatches and preparing the cannons. To be clear, he doesn’t ignore the problems—he just slaps a pair of googly eyes on them and then gets to work.
His optimism eventually seeps into Evelyn, and we see her use his advice to triumph over many of her adversaries. Instead of her simple-yet-ineffective method of “punch first, ask questions later,” she overcomes her opponents through reminding them that there are things they still enjoy even in a universe where nothing seems to matter—just as Waymond had done for her. Of course, a couple of these reminders are unsavory, but others remind us of happy memories in life, such as Evelyn spraying a man with the perfume his wife wore when she was alive.
And though Evelyn’s daughter Joy deeply desires to fall into a pit of annihilation and despair, Evelyn refuses to allow her to do so. Even as Joy fights against her, Evelyn holds and protects her daughter from becoming consumed by depression. Evelyn doesn’t deny either of their flaws or miscommunications, but she instead reminds Joy that she loves her and would much rather live together with their flaws than exist in a world without her.
There are also elements throughout the film which talk about the importance of marriage. Waymond introduces divorce papers to Evelyn early on in the film, yes, but it is clear that neither of them actually want it to come to that: Waymond mournfully looks on toward a happy elderly couple, one of whom gently kisses the other on the cheek. Waymond and Evelyn both believe that it is wrong to divorce, and they reference the sacred vows they made to one another. In fact, Waymond states that he’s only brought the papers because another friend told him that having the papers in front of them might restore their marriage by making the prospect of divorce seem more real—and force them to have difficult, but important, conversations.
Though the effectiveness of that strategy seems dubious, it’s apparent that everything Waymond is doing is an effort to restore a marriage that has fallen from unconditional love to little more than resigned dependence. But as Evelyn jumps from a universe with Waymond to a universe without him—a universe where she’s rich and successful— she rejects that more glamorous life to spend a harder, tax-and-laundry-filled existence with him.
In addition to a few minor spiritual quips (listed below), a major part of Everything Everywhere All at Once is a nihilistic discussion on existence. Because the characters have the ability to obtain any skill, life and circumstance they desire by jumping from universe to universe, the Jobu Tupaki asserts that nothing truly matters. She has seen everything and has constructed an “everything bagel,” with literally everything on it, from emotions to report cards to sesame seeds. That bagel taught her that existence itself is futile and pointless—where people have merely a few moments of clarity amid a sea of chaos.
Believe it or not, that’s actually a biblical principle—at least, part of one. The author of Ecclesiastes wrote the same thing: “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun” (Eccles. 1:2-3)? Whether it’s the pursuit of wealth, pleasure, wisdom or status, everything is ultimately meaningless—like trying to grab vapor in the wind. We all die, we are forgotten and the world moves on without us. Life is chaotic and out of our control.
But, unlike Joy, the author doesn’t end it on that depressing note. Instead, he points us to the purpose of life at the end of the book: “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Eccles. 12:13, cf. John 15:1-11). In one sense, the Jobu Tupaki is correct—life is merely a vapor in the wind, here today and gone tomorrow, so what’s the point? But the flaw in the Jobu Tupaki’s philosophy is in not acknowledging an eternal God who does not pass away and can therefore be a firm foundation.
Jokes are made about the clothes worn by Becky, Joy’s girlfriend—with Becky being told they have a “hot Mormon look.” A man says, “God rest her soul.” Evelyn discusses souls. A woman sings Franz Schubert’s “Ellens dritter Gesang” (more commonly nicknamed “Ave Maria”). Waymond briefly mentions a friend from church. Waymond says he’s happy “chance” allowed him and Evelyn to spend some time together.
Throughout the film, Evelyn and Waymond discuss getting a divorce. At one point, we see Evelyn sign the divorce papers. We briefly see Evelyn’s face as she’s apparently having sex in a split-second scene, though nothing else is shown. Evelyn causes two people to get married, and she spanks another man and uses bondage equipment on him.
An IRS auditor named Deirdre Beaubeirdra has three trophies of sex toys on her desk for being auditor of the month. A police officer’s baton is turned into a sex toy resembling male genitalia (which later, magically, transforms into two such toys), and the Jobu Tupaki beats him to death with them. An office has a hidden room filled with sex toys.
In the movie’s lore, doing something weird will help connect you to another universe’s version of yourself, allowing you to access that version of you’s abilities—as we explain in Other Negative Elements below. As such, in one fight scene, a man attempts to sit on a sex toy to regain his fighting powers Another man who isn’t wearing pants succeeds in sitting on the toy (his genitals are censored), and the other man sticks another object up his rear. Both men fight Evelyn with the items still stuck in their rears, and Evelyn pulls them out to rid them of their powers.
Joy is a lesbian and is dating another girl named Becky. In one universe, Evelyn is a lesbian, and we see her and her partner engage in affectionate and even slightly sensual activity (though nothing critical is shown, and it’s done for comic effect). Evelyn and Waymond kiss. Joy and Becky kiss on a couple of occasions. An elderly couple kisses. In a universe where humans have hot dogs for fingers, people put their fingers in one another’s mouths, causing ketchup and mustard to shoot out.
Everything Everywhere All at Once is a very odd movie with an oddly fitting title. It is important for the reader to remember that because this film deals with a multiverse, characters who are hurt or die in one may still be alive in another.
Evelyn is killed by a pipe to the head. Evelyn is also killed after overloading her brain from jumping to too many universes. She punches, kicks and grapples with many people. At one point, she uses a riot shield as a weapon against a group of people. Evelyn stabs someone with a shard of glass. She also smashes a window with a baseball bat.
Waymond’s neck is snapped, and another version of Waymond also dies. He fights a group of security officers with a fanny pack, knocking them all out, and he fights Deirdre. Waymond slaps Evelyn. Waymond is tased.
Dierdre fights Evelyn and Waymond, and at one point, she slams herself into a wall headfirst. She also staples a piece of paper to her head.
Someone tells Evelyn to kill someone else with a box cutter before they are possessed by the Jobu Tupaki. The Jobu Tupaki stabs itself, and it uses ketchup to pretend it was shot by a gun. The Jobu Tupaki attempts to ends its existence. A car crashes. A group of police officers are killed in a variety of ways—one is shot to death, one pops into a spray of confetti and one is beaten to death with sex toys. A split-second scene shows a bus driver about to be hit in a head-on collision.
The f-word is used eight times, and the s-word is used 15 times. “B–ch,” “d–n” and “p-ss” are occasionally heard as well. God’s name is misused nearly 15 times.
Alpha Waymond calls Evelyn the “worst” version of Evelyn.
Joy and Becky are seen in a bar. Joy asks if Evelyn is drunk. The Jobu Tupaki smokes a cigarette, and she uses the barrel of a gun like a vape.
Evelyn drinks a beer. Evelyn tries vaping. Waymond smokes a cigarette.
Evelyn throws up due to morning sickness, and she also throws up from jumping to too many universes. A version of Evelyn is seen in a baby bonnet and covered in blood. One universe shows humans evolved from monkeys. A woman swings a dog on its leash to use as a weapon to attack Evelyn. Evelyn wets herself.
The characters are able to instantly learn how to perform skills that other versions of themselves have mastered by jumping to their universe and obtaining that version’s memories. However, in order to jump universes, characters must first do a strange, often unpleasant action, all of which are listed below.
Waymond eats lip balm, and he chews gum stuck under a table. Waymond also gives himself paper cuts between his fingers. Evelyn must convincingly tell Deirdre that she loves her, she forces her father to eat his own snot and she snorts a fly. Deirdre staples a paper to her forehead.
A couple of scenes contain bright flashing lights, creating a strobe light effect that may be difficult for some to be able to watch or may be concerning for those who suffer from photosensitive epilepsy.
Everything Everywhere All at Once is perhaps the strangest movie you’ll see all year. It’s surely the only movie I’ve ever seen where the protagonist is occasionally a piñata or a rock with googly eyes and sometimes sports hot dogs for fingers. And I definitely never expected a movie with those elements to be about, at its root, philosophical questions on the nature of existence.
As Evelyn travels from universe to universe, she finds herself experiencing all of the directions her life could have gone had she taken a different path—if she never married her husband Waymond or had learned martial arts, for example. And in every instance, she discovers that those versions of her have, on the surface, much better lives than she does (yes, even the Evelyn who has hot dogs for fingers).
It’s enough to make Evelyn want to just abandon her past life and go live in one of those other universes. The quality of her life would dramatically increase, it would seem. If you can be anything, anywhere, why would you ever stay in a universe that contains not only all of your failures and flaws, but also the failures and flaws of others? And not only that, but if there are infinite universes and infinite possibilities, does anything really matter in the end—or is it all, as Jobu Tupaki tells us, a meaningless mess of chaos with only a few seconds of occasional clarity?
They’re questions Evelyn grapples with, often swinging one way and another. And as she thinks about how to answer them, she reminds us of the value of marriage and family as she goes, continuously fighting for her father, husband and daughter through her journey. And through all the punches thrown and kicks, well, kicked, we realize that just because a universe is full of pain and hardship doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not a life worth living.
Of course, to get to that conclusion, Evelyn must also dive into a movie more loaded with more unsavory content than an everything bagel. This multiverse is filled with various sexual themes and gags of both the homosexual and heterosexual variety, harsh swear words and plenty of violent content. In addition, the sheer strangeness factor of the movie may be a bit too strange for some, and a couple scenes with bright flashing lights may be hard for some to sit through.
In one of Evelyn’s universes, this movie is able to tell all those positive messages without the addition of these content concerns. Unfortunately, we aren’t in the right one.
Though he was born in Kansas, Kennedy Unthank studied journalism at the University of Missouri. He knew he wanted to write for a living when he won a contest for “best fantasy story” while in the 4th grade. What he didn’t know at the time, however, was that he was the only person to submit a story. Regardless, the seed was planted. Kennedy collects and plays board games in his free time, and he loves to talk about biblical apologetics and hermeneutics. He doesn’t think the ending of Lost was “that bad.”