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‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’ Proves The Power Of The Mother

By Andrea Mew··  9 min read
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A24

An otherwise unassuming mother becomes an action hero and gets a taste of all her wildest dreams. But ultimately she leaves that all behind and, in doing so, saves the world.

Whimsical, downright absurd, and perfectly summed up by its title, Everything Everywhere All at Once is undoubtedly the film industry’s most unique amalgamation of genres to date. I went into the theaters knowing I’d be getting my fair share of kung-fu action and science fiction, but one thing I didn’t expect to take away from this film was the beautiful picture it painted of the power of the mother.

Critics have been gushing over this film for many reasons, particularly how it’s a “mind-expanding, idiosyncratic take on the superhero film [where] a laundromat owner is the focus of a grand, multiversal showdown.”

Don’t get me wrong, the visual intricacies and eclectic humor weren’t lost on me, but nothing left more of an impact than the main character Evelyn’s impressive development as a woman growing into her strength as a mother and wife, learning grace, patience, and true love.

Heads up: This review contains a fair amount of spoilers!

The Modern Mother Is Spread Thin

Michelle Yeoh plays Evelyn, wife to her husband Waymond and mother to their daughter Joy. She’s an otherwise unassuming mother who is struggling to manage her life. Her stress levels are shot. She’s up to her eyes in paperwork ahead of tax season, she’s about to be served papers for divorce, and her daughter is desperately seeking her approval to bring her girlfriend to her elderly grandfather’s birthday party.

Though many of us are not immigrant laundromat-owners, watching Evelyn sort through her life on pins and needles is entirely relatable. The modern woman truly wears more hats today than ever before, oftentimes taking on many roles simultaneously like career-woman, wife, mother, caretaker, and more. It truly weighs on many women, making them feel spread thin by the sheer volume of responsibility they’re expected to manage.

everything everywhere all at once IRS meeting

At the film’s start, Evelyn is certainly lacking in patience and grace. The smallest thing her husband does aggravates her, and she finds herself zoning out while meeting with the IRS. She’s tough on her daughter and brutally honest about her concerns with her daughter’s image and behavior, faulting her for things that we are all guilty of. Evelyn doesn’t communicate love very well at all with those in her life who need it the most.

What If You Could Live a Different Life Though?

Through a bizarre chain of events, Evelyn finds herself being able to live out various realities where her life is anything but the mundane, stressful version that she’s used to. The trade off, however, is that she’s actually hopping around alternate universes in order to save the multiverse from the villain, Jobu Tupaki. Along the way, she’s drawn into many realities that allow her to achieve her wildest dreams and which pull on her heartstrings.

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As an immigrant from China, Evelyn left her home country to seek out the American Dream with her eager husband. One reality that charms Evelyn is the idea that she never settled down with her husband, never left China, never had kids, and instead focused on her more glamorous career. Over the course of the movie, it dawns on her that these sacrifices were worth it and that she’d rather have a family despite all of their issues and faults.

With more women opting for a career-driven life, putting marriage and kids on the backburner, this message in particular struck a chord with me as I watch my generation rethink and often reject traditional priorities. 

Yet, in doing so, we run the risk of not enriching our lives in the aspects that really matter in the long run. The timeless bond we make with a spouse who is devoted to us “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.” The children we birth, nurse, and raise as the next generation, who carry our lineage and values forward into the future.

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Does Nothing Really Matter?

Well, this shift in priorities is as pervasive as the existential, nihilistic view taking over my fellow Gen Zers, as well as Millennials. Nihilism, the modern pessimistic belief that nothing matters, is played out in this film by Jobu Tupaki’s character. She wants to end existence in total destruction because everything is small and insignificant to her. 

This is in stark contrast to the traditional Taoist belief from China that “nothing matters,” which Evelyn reflects on throughout her journey. The Taoist sense of the term “nothing matters” instead means that “I don’t care who I am, I could be a piece of dust, but I’m just so happy to be dust with you.”  

EVERYTHING-EVERYWHERE all at once villian

The film makes a clear distinction between the destructive nature of thinking that everything is meaningless and embracing a more positive train of thought.

As it turns out, both the conflict and the resolution to the conflict in the film are that “nothing matters.” Evelyn breaks down early on, distraught about the fact that to her, the New Year just means another cycle of laundry and taxes. 

But then, later on in her dreamy alternate reality where she is a celebrity girl boss, the man whom she marries in her regular timeline says something to the effect of “in another life, I would have liked to be with you somewhere doing laundry and taxes." 

Evelyn starts to realize that the glitz and glamor might not be all that it’s hyped up to be, and feels drawn back to the reality where she and her husband have to tackle things like laundry and taxes together.

Similarly, in another multiverse, Evelyn and Jobu take the form of rocks at the edge of a valley, overlooking a wide canyon. They reflect on human existence and comment on how peacefully small they feel.

“Every new discovery is just a reminder,” starts Jobu.

“We’re all small and stupid,” finishes Evelyn.

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Evelyn gets this brief moment of respite with Jobu where they can find solace in the fact that the universe is endlessly expansive with new discoveries and exciting prospects popping up here and there. Despite endless possibilities, Evelyn still feels drawn to expressing simple love for her daughter.

Love Triumphs over Cynicism

Evelyn also grows in her deeper and multifaceted understanding of love when she finds herself empathizing with the IRS bureaucrat (Deirdre, played by Jaime Lee Curtis) who feels broken and as though she has no purpose.

“You are not unlovable. There is always something to love. Even in a stupid, stupid universe where we have hot dogs for fingers, we get very good with our feet,” Evelyn eventually shares with Deirdre.

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Evelyn also revives her relationship with her husband Waymond, whom she saw as weak, unnecessarily optimistic, and far too kind for the chaotic world he was thrust into. Instead of feeling hostile toward him and the rest of the world, Evelyn tries to start seeing the world through Waymond’s perspective. This is one of the key shifts where Evelyn gains the feminine patience and grace that was hidden under all of her stress.

This film encourages the viewer to ask themselves what they really gain from being cynical instead of loving. For a young woman trying to make the right decision for her future and not feel regretful over things that could have been, this film reminds us all that no matter what road you take, as long as you take the compassionate and hopeful route, you should be setting yourself up for a fulfilling life. 

The Mundane Matters

Look, reality isn’t always sexy. You can daydream all you want about a picturesque marriage with the perfect beau, beautiful children who never rock the boat, and a career without bumps in the road. But when you set yourself up mentally for such unattainable expectations, you’re bound to feel disappointed.

Even though Evelyn got a taste of the ideal versions of her life, she grew to love the mundane.

“Of all the places I could be, I just want to be here with you,” Evelyn ultimately confesses to her daughter.

Together, she and her angst-ridden daughter choose to reject the pervasive, nihilistic belief that “nothing matters” and that despite the two of them being able to achieve their wildest dreams by jumping through multiverses, what matters the most is that they have their family. 

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Life is chaotic and sometimes things might not make sense. It’s easy to feel disillusioned by the mundane, but Evelyn finds revived meaning in her life by embracing her role as a mother. She learns that motherhood is fulfilling, as well as a self-sacrificing form of love. 

During the time that she felt like her life lacked true meaning, her nuclear family began to fall apart. Ultimately, the secret to saving the multiverse was to bring their nuclear family back together.

Closing Thoughts

Maybe you’re feeling spread thin or disappointed by the laundry list of small, but necessary tasks you have to accomplish. Maybe you and your loved ones have been at each other's throats, clashing over misunderstandings and forgetting to lead with love. Maybe the outside world keeps crashing in on your personal life and you want to lash out.

In spite of all of this, as women we have unique feminine qualities that give us patience and grace in the face of danger and stress. We can reject them and continue to be cynical and nihilistic, or we can choose to remember just how much power and influence our behavior has over our own mental state as well as everyone around us.

When I bought my tickets for Everything Everywhere All at Once, I didn’t know that I would be signing up for one of the most incredible portrayals of the tenderness of a mother’s relationship with her daughter, husband, and the world around her. At the end of the film, I felt refreshed about my future knowing that despite the endless possibilities out there that may bring me joy or disappointment, the path forward as a wife and someday a mother will be the most powerful experiences of them all.

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