Note: Spoilers ahead for the movie Everything Everywhere All at Once. If you haven’t seen it, put this down and come back after a viewing.
“Nothing matters.” ~ Jobu/Joy, Everything Everywhere All at Once
“Nothing matters.” ~ Evelyn, Everything Everywhere All at Once
I just rewatched the brilliant multiverse film Everything Everywhere All at Once. After an intitial viewing, I immediately told everyone I know to watch it, though I couldn’t explain exactly what it’s about. It’s a Kung Fu meets Taoism fever dream about the multiverse. About identity. About laundry and taxes and hot dog hands and googly eyes and everything bagels. About freedom and existentialism and a mother’s love. It’s funny and heartbreaking and a visual treat, one of those once-in-a-lifetime movies whose plot eschews an easy explanation. And it demands several viewings.
I first watched it on a plane, $12 mimosa in hand and crappy earbuds attempting to drown out the drone of the pilot. I rewatched it last week ahead of the Academy Awards, where it took home seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress for Michelle Yeoh, the first time an Asian has won. I’m still thinking about it.
Jobu Tupaki is, in the current reality, Joy, Evelyn’s gay, Chinese-American daughter. But she is also Jobu, goddess of multiversal destruction. In her millions of lives lived, she has seen nothing but suffering and random chaos. In fact, she grows so bored by the hopeless absurdity of life, she nihilistically puts everything on a bagel. Literally everything. “All my hopes and dreams, my old report cards, every breed of dog, every personal ad on Craigslist… sesame… poppy seed… salt. And it collapsed in on itself. Cause you see, when you really put everything on a bagel, it becomes this … the truth.”
And the truth is? That nothing matters. Jobu delivers the line without inflection, as Evelyn looks into the limitless white hole of the black bagel (the symbolic dark yin to the light-hearted googly eye’s yang, which is a black circle surrounded by a white one). The collapse of the everything bagel is about to destroy every timeline and life within.
But the more chaotic life appears to become, the more opportunity there is for underlying order to reveal itself. We just need perspective to see it.
We can zoom our focus in and obsess, or we can zoom it out and observe.
After many lives zooming in, Evelyn zooms out and finally gets it. Her ever-increasing levels of violence are continually met with defeat. It’s only when she offers slivers of compassion and peace toward her combatants does she start to understand the Tao. “Nothing matters,” she says, as she hangs up on Deidre, Jamie Lee Curtis’s tax-auditor-from-hell. But what Evelyn means is that life is so absurd that things matter only insofar as they teach us to love. An audit isn’t the end of the world. Missing the life you’re leading now in favor of the lives you’re living in your head is the real tragedy. All the things we long for – grace and gratitude, laughter and love, compassion and connection – can be found right now, in the laundry and the taxes and, yes, even in the everything bagel. “Nothing matters, we can do anything,” Evelyn learns. We are designed to strive toward purpose. Even as rocks, Evelyn and Jobu/Joy constantly attempt to move forward. We get to choose what matters, what has meaning.
If the bagel represents isolation and dread, the randomly placed googly eyes illustrate that connection lies everywhere, all at once. All we need do is awaken so that we can see what we bring to life, rather than what it brings to us.