3 Moments We Relate to in Everything Everywhere All At Once
Screenshots taken from Youtube
Everything Everywhere All At Once hit the screens more than a year ago, but it’s been making headlines everywhere all at once in the last few months, as the film began to sweep all the major awards, from the Golden Globes to most recently, the Oscars.
On 12 March, the main star of the film, Michelle Yeoh, made history by being the first Asian to win the Best Actress award at the Oscars. In her acceptance speech, she spoke about her hopes that the award would help break the “glass ceiling” and be a “beacon of hope and possibilities” for the Asian community.
While Michelle’s words echoed the sentiments of many Asians who have taken to social media to celebrate how the film has made them feel seen, it also does much more than that. What has made the film truly groundbreaking is how it artfully meshed together multiple genres—from science fiction to fantasy, comedy and drama with a heavy dash of realism—to convey the complexity of our human experiences and relationships through the lens of a Chinese immigrant family, Evelyn, Waymond, and their daughter Joy.
There’s so much to say about this movie, but since we can’t talk about everything all at once, here are just three moments in the movie that we found ourselves relating to:
1. The ‘What If’ scene
Watching Michelle Yeoh’s character, Evelyn, an immigrant laundromat owner, stumble into the verse where she’s a glamorous movie star, some of us may have felt as stricken as she did: thinking about the life we could’ve had, looking back to all the “crossroads” in our lives and imagining how things might have turned out better had we chosen differently—
- picked a different course in university, a different first (second, third) job
- stayed longer in a job, or quit sooner than we had
- moved somewhere else
- married someone else
Then again, it’s all well and easy to imagine how things might be better in an alternate universe or life path, because that’s where we’re free to project the best of our fantasies.
When Waymond, Evelyn’s husband tells her, “In another life, I would have really liked just doing laundry and taxes with you”, it sounds so romantic to hear. But the truth is, he could say that because he hadn’t actually lived that life; he didn’t know that the Waymond in the tax-universe was preparing, in fact, to file a divorce.
It’s enticing to play the “what if” game, because we get momentarily transported from our not-so-great, if not altogether terrible, present-day reality. We do this in part because it’s a way of trying to exercise control over our present circumstances, which we can’t undo or easily change.
But this exercise is a distraction at best, and only deepens our sadness and despair, which makes it even harder to move forward with our lives.
As Waymond and Evelyn come to realise, sometimes, the difficult, grown-up thing we have to do is to face the reality of what we’ve chosen and learn to live with it and take responsibility for it. It doesn’t mean we can’t mourn what we’ve lost, but we need to realise at some point that we cannot mourn forever, especially when it only keeps us from truly living the lives God wants us to live.
As Christians, we can find courage and hope to live with the decisions we’ve made when we fall back on the truth that God is still our ever compassionate Father (Nehemiah 9:19-20; Isaiah 41:10). This means we don’t have to be afraid that our poor choices and missteps have irrevocably wrecked our lives. God will not abandon us to our own devices, but will lovingly guide us toward a life that’s covered by His goodness.
2. The rocks scene
At some point in life, all of us have probably felt the pressure of being caught in a life—or relationship—that feels impossibly difficult and exhausting, and wished that we could just get away from it all. To not have to worry about anything, to not even feel anything, but “just be a rock”.
Directors and scriptwriters, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, turn this familiar sentiment into a brilliant, absurdist scene where Evelyn and her daughter Joy wordlessly voice out that feeling of “we’re all small and stupid”, trapped in a world where nothing seems to make sense. This echoes the general sense of hopelessness that we also see in Ecclesiastes:
All things are wearisome, more than one can say. What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:8-9)
The natural trajectory of experiencing such meaninglessness is despair, which is what we hear from Joy, who tells Evelyn how she had hoped that there was a way out of all the madness of this world, but from what she’d seen, it didn’t seem possible.
And yet, perhaps what makes such experiences slightly more bearable is when like Joy, we realise we’re not going through them entirely alone, and can say with relief, “Oh, good. You’re here, too.”
When we find ourselves so depleted that we fall silent, our comfort and hope as believers is knowing that even in silence, God sits with us. Even when we have no words, the Spirit intercedes for us. And in stillness, we know that He is still God.
The big difference is, while someone like Joy decides that the only recourse is to give up, enter that bagel hole and give in to void and nothingness, as Christians, our centre is not a hole; God is our centre.
No matter how despairing life gets or feels, we place our lot with Him and our lives in His hands. We won’t give up, no matter how hard it gets, “for our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
3. The mother-daughter reconciliation scene
For all its zany, experimental moments and genre-bending action, the most impactful scenes for many of us were not the fast-paced actions or the thrill of seeing the characters jump from verse to verse, but the quieter moments when mother and daughter came face to face with each other.
At the heart of it, Everything Everywhere All At Once is really about the relationship between a mother and a daughter—that intermingling of tension and love that we know all too well.
While the rocks scene gave us a glimpse of that wordless connection that really binds them, it was in this final scene, where they completely let go and confront their honest feelings towards one another, that we truly see Evelyn and Joy attempt the hard work of reconciliation.
It’s hard to articulate the complexity of the tenuous relationship many of us have with our parents—especially the ones that have been marked by the trauma of abandonment, regret, and careless words flung.
Which is why Joy tells her mother, “I don’t want to hurt anymore. And for some reason, when I’m with you, it just hurts the both of us. So let’s just go our separate ways, okay? Just let me go.”
In that moment, even as Evelyn reluctantly whispers, “Okay,” and lets her daughter go, she also expresses what’s really on her heart. After jumping from one universe to another and catching glimpses of all the lives she never got to live, she says:
Of all the places I could be, why would I want to be here with you? It doesn’t make sense . . . [But] no matter what, I still want to be here with you. I always, always want to be here with you.
Watching this scene, some of us were probably drawn back to the moments in our lives where we felt exactly as Joy did, torn between feeling like we’ll never be good enough for someone’s affections and still yearning to be accepted by them: “You could be anything, anywhere . . . where your daughter is more than just this.”
In just three minutes, directors Daniel and Daniel captured the underlying baggage that characterise such relationships—the weight of history that words alone can’t bridge, and that sense of wanting to escape it all and carve out another life and identity for ourselves—and yet, finding ourselves unable to cut ourselves off completely from loved ones who have hurt us the most. Those whose lives, words, and decisions have permanently shaped and scarred us.
The interplay of emotions we see in this scene between Evelyn and Joy shows us that we need to acknowledge both our love for the people closest to our hearts, as well as the very real pain they’ve inflicted on us. We need to admit that both are equally real, and not dismiss one for the other.
The Bible is realistic about the pains of loving people who have hurt us deeply. 1 Corinthians 13:7 says, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things”.
When we come to terms with how hard it is, that’s when we’ll realise that we need a bigger love than our own to help us persevere. Only then can we finally take a step towards reconciliation, instead of sweeping things under the carpet or running away.
Our hope is that Everything Everywhere All At Once won’t just be remembered as a film that pushed the boundaries for Asians in Hollywood, but also one that showed us what it looks like to bare our souls in the bravest, most vulnerable and tender way.
By seeing these significant moments played out in the film—what it looks like to face our what ifs and regrets, to persevere when life is madness, and to live with each other even when we can’t fully understand one another—may we be moved to think deeply about what it means to love, to endure and work towards reconciliation, and to remember that it is God who holds all things (including us) together.
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