Everything Everywhere…

by Phyllis Chesler

I had such a surprisingly massive and positive response to my article yesterday about the partly naked actresses at the Academy Awards that I decided: What the Hell! I might as well say something about the film that won seven Oscars.

I watched, “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” yes, I did, and I was not amused. I was not even entertained. Actually, it gave me a headache. I, for one, do not experience a non-stop series of special effects as a form of plot development. For me, rapid and incomprehensible location (multi-verses) and costume “switches,” do not qualify as a deep existential statement about reality or about alternate realities.

Clearly, others do, especially those who run Hollywood.

What am I missing? Am I hard-heartedly minimizing the fact that this is an immigrant story about a Chinese family-owned laundromat, the terrors of an IRS audit, a typically agonizing mother-lesbian daughter conflict? Did I not love Michelle Yeoh in “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon?” Yes, I did. Am I overlooking the importance of an over-the-top film about an Asian-American family who may only seem humdrum when in fact they inhabit multiple universes and are all heroes? Do I simply not understand the significance of a giant bagel that is threatening to destroy us all? I admit it—I don’t understand it. Does it bother me that there are really no characters in the film—only comic-book stereotypes. Yes, it does—even though I love the actors and actresses in the film. Jamie Lee Curtis, Stephanie Hsu, James Hong. One thing has nothing to do with the other.

Long ago and far away, I taught Maxine Hong Kingston’s work (“The Woman Warrior: A Memoir of Girlhood Among Ghosts,” “China Men”) and Amy Tan’s work (“The Joy Luck Club,” “The Kitchen God’s Wife.”) These are works I deeply admired because their stories about Chinese women in history and as immigrants in America were breathtaking, tragic, and opened unknown worlds to their readers.

It finally occurred to me that those who made “Everything Everywhere,” those who saw it, loved it and, with only a few exceptions, reviewed it very positively, might have grown up playing video games and watching action movies. Perhaps they are of a generation that enjoys sudden, startling moves, jig-saw puzzles, all manner of fragmentation, clever insider odes to other films. The need for constant stimulation, constant WHAM-BAM-SHAZAM; the need to be constantly upended, wowed, forced to make sense of the senseless—ah, that is a bit ADD-like but also very postmodern. The film must have been an interactive game for those who loved it.

I stand alone—or do I?


12 Responses

    1. Just wait until money, as we’ve known it forever, will become digital. The government is waiting for a chance to pounce and make it so. The banks collapsing now, and the government bailing them out, again, (yes they are) will offer them the perfect time to make money transfers digital and gain more control over our lives.

  1. I instinctively react as you do. I’ll old as stale bagels, so many that is the clue, but… I remember as a young guy, full of vim and vigor being distrustful of all those deeply twisted films that those who read antoinine artaud would laud, and all that existential angst peddled as deeply meaningful and where supposed to have truths that the day to day world was just too addled to understand. But I’m raving…. look, the metaverse can be viewed as it was expressed by that director? writer, i think, the balding fellow who opined that the laws against drag queens reading to children was just so unwise, in his view (the metaverse). I may be just so gauche in his view but I think the grooming of children is wrong, likely more than just a little evil and the director or writer of whatever he is can have his metaverse. The movie would I think leave me down….

  2. You don’t stand alone. We shut the tv half way over. We thought it was the most stupid and ridiculous script.

  3. I don’t understand the video game culture. One of my nephews, as a young boy, when I came to visit, was always playing video games, many war games and such. I worried a bit about him, how (I imagined) the overly-stimulating graphics and such might damage his brain, his cognitive development.

    Anyway, he is now a neurologist at one of Toronto’s best hospitals and he is married to an obstetrician. As I said, I don’t understand.

    Phyllis, you are not alone.

  4. Yes Phyllis, you have once again hit the nail on the head! I grew bored with the film a few minutes in but forced myself to continue because it was getting so much play as a deep film about parallel universes (a subject I happen to be very interested in). It was, rather, a movie with comic strip-like theatrics, no real characters– and a lot of special effects. I’m guessing that the screenwriters and director expected audiences to be moved by the mother’s declaration of love for her daughter through all the worlds at the end of the movie. Now that’s a theme I could get behind! But, sadly, it left me cold. Much of contempo culture either bores or angers me with its apotheosis of trivia. this movie tried to be ‘deep’ and ended up not even mildly amusing.

  5. Phyllis, I’m so glad you said this – now I know I’m not alone! I wanted to like it, I was interested in this woman’s story but all humanity was buried alive in this chaotic mess. I couldn’t follow it and all my senses felt assaulted. What a waste of great talent!

  6. I watched it some time ago and enjoyed it well enough, in my remembrance. Like you, I enjoy these actors. But I’m also one who rather enjoys surprising disruptions in a narrative. To me, narratives are rather limited in number, whereas the Universe is limitless. So surprise and delight are fundamental experiences – rather like the pearls on a worn string (narrative). And parallel universes is a natural conceit for this point of view, so I felt it coherent enough in its way. Actually, I have an essay submitted to the New English Review upcoming in April titled, “Alpha Muse” which discusses this. Bon appetit!

  7. If Hollywood is enthused about something, I head the other way.
    Silicon Valley billionaires seem to think we live in a Giant Simulation and that includes Elon Musk and most of Hollywood.


    From article above: “Another breakout candidate is Elon Musk, who claimed in an interview at Recode’s Code Conference 2016 that the odds of us not being in a simulation are “one in billions.” His reasoning is that with all the advancements we’ve seen already, how could it not happen?”

    So, for these types such movies like this are not an escape rather they are an explanation and they make perfect sense.

    All I can say is: “Oh sweet Saint of San Andreas, hear my prayer.”

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