Everything Everywhere All at Once – Timely Nihilism

Everything Everywhere All at Once – Timely Nihilism

Directed By: Daniel Kwan/Daniel Scheinhert

Written By: Daniel Kwan/Daniel Scheinhert

Starring: Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan, James Hong, Jamie Lee Curtis

“Nihilism is . . . not only the belief that everything deserves to perish; but one actually puts one’s shoulder to the plough; one destroys” – Nietzsche

I think “Everything Everywhere All at Once” (2022) is the kind of film that has been missing from the contemporary cinematic landscape. First, its fun!! I cannot express this enough. Its fun!!! It has been a while since I’ve had this much fun at the theatre. Second, (and a large part of while I feel its fun) it’s a genuine action comedy that is well performed, well stunted, actually funny without relying on poorly written one liners; a fad that has endured across all genres in Hollywood for the last decade, and the party that I that I would like to levy the blame for this fad is none other than Joss Whedon (I have an insane argument that Joss Whedon’s script for “The Avengers” (2012) has been singularly responsible for transforming how “comedy” has been largely stripped from cinematic form and instead reduced to something that rests solely within a script (one liners) that I would love to outline at some point in the near future). Here, humour and physical action blend a la Jackie Chan to bring about the closest approximation to a Jackie Chan film that I have seen in the west. We have characters wielding everything from a fanny pack (in an impressively choregraphed scene performed by Ke Huy Quan) to dildos and even butt plugs. It’s oddly delightful to see someone getting smacked around by a dildo. I also appreciate that action here is intentionally filmed more in the Hong Kong style – wide shots, with inserts of close ups, and reactions, while the action is always visible, and the way that the shots are framed invite the next scene of action (if you want to see a good breakdown of this, then check out Every Frame’s a Painting of Jackie Chan’s films on YouTube. The Link is at the bottom). A major pet peeve of mine with a lot of Western style action films is that while you understand that action has taken place, you’re never actually allowed to see it in the film. There are too many cuts. The editing is as shaky as the camera which spins and whirls to the point where its hard not to imagine that the cameraman isn’t having a stroke while trying to nail down the action. It’s downright frustrating, and it ultimately it takes away from what the scene is often trying to accomplish. It’s a bland and dis-engaging way to film action, something that should feel dynamic on screen – we are talking about moving bodies and they’re physicality here after all. I never once had this issue with “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” the film is very well crafted. The film also does a wonderful job of balancing homage with comedy. There are riffs and references to all kinds of films like “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1967), “Ratatouille” (2007), and in general the various Jackie Chan flicks that Jackie Chan made during his early career when he was a regular face in the Hong Kong cinematic landscape. Generally, the references are played for humour and I have to say that here the humour lands incredibly well (especially the 2001 Sequence where the apes with hot dog fingers win out against the apes with regular fingers and as a result there is a universe where Michelle Yeoh and Jamie Lee Curtis can live out a life as lovers blessed with hot dog fingers; a scene which had me howling in the theatre). The only reference which doesn’t land well for me, and really is the only gripe I have with the film – is the reference to Wong Kar-Wai’s “In the Mood for Love” (2000). The reference doesn’t land for me here as “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is using the reference not for humour but to land as part of its emotional core, but the two films are thematically adrift. “In the Mood for Love” is a period piece where its two main characters spend their time learning to love one another while using each other to process their spouse’s infidelity (and failing) and what it means in terms of their relationship. Whereas “Everything Everywhere All at once” uses this reference to set the stage for a dramatic reunion between Evelynn and Raymond in a universe where they never stayed together, but the reference ends up playing as recontextualization because it’s used as a scene which prompts Evelynn to fall for Raymond again back in the film’s proper universe. We spend enough time in this scene for it play as a dramatic core to the film, and ultimately for such a crucial scene to hinge on a reference to an entirely different text – it just doesn’t work as well as I’d like it to. Despite the scene containing one of the films most memorable quotes – “In another life, I would have loved doing taxes and laundry with you.”

            I think that in a lot of ways a good film is like a good piece of music – I’ll explain what I mean by this. I think in both instances, there is a strong sense of progression within the piece. You start with an initial melody and key, which from therein the melody develops, grows and branches out into different sounds and textures. While sounds may change and the mood of the piece may change as well; the piece never loses the shape of its sound or its form, it retains key and melody and while it may present that key and melody in different and profound ways, the undercurrent of where the piece began and where it’s going always remains. Ultimately, a long winded metaphor just so I can argue that form is key. What impressed me while watching “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is that the film was able to mirror its content – a film about dealing with family traumas and having those traumas trigger nihilistic bouts of self destruction closely mirrors the chaos of what’s happening through the film. As the characters become more and more comfortable with time skipping, and as the destructive everything bagel becomes more and more pronounced so too does the editing. Suddenly, the pace of the film speeds up, we are literally thrown through burst speed edits of Michelle Yeoh’s face through different universes. We jump from setting to setting to setting, characters become rocks, movie stars, Racacoonie puppets, and so on as the Daniels play with a multiverse of possibilities. The film reaches a crescendo until it burns itself out, and we are left with a couple of rocks alone upon a cliff in dead silence – also, one of the funniest, memorable and clever thesis vehicle scenes I have ever seen in a film. The editing and pace of the film starts to stable out as we staccato our way into a proper finale set piece. The chaos of the editing and content of the film also perfectly mirrors the mis en scene of the film. The laundromat and all its spinning machines and maintenance chores feels like chaos; the tax receipts splayed out across Michelle Yeohs desk feels like chaos, and the tumultuous inner workings of familial relationships, well, dear reader, I don’t believe I need to explain the absolute chaos of familial machinations as I’m sure that is something we are all too well familiar with. The cliff that I’m hopefully rolling all of us towards is that with this film, its content matches its form, the scenes are all clearly well thought out and put together, and it makes for a visually rewarding piece of cinema.  

            I think “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is the film we need in this current cinematic landscape because of its content. It’s a film that at its core is about feeling worthless, and channeling that worthlessness into a self-destructive nihilism, and then from the help of family and friends, and a desire to help yourself, walking yourself back from the cliff of that void. We are beset upon the destructive throes of capitalism which threatens to drain all sense of creativity and freedom for profit, and worse for an insidious rinse of the poor. Rising waves of right-wing nationalism, an ideological nationalism that is transcending borders, and rallying the most racist and misogynistic portions of Western Society and cloaking them in cries of victimhood and violence. The environment is tearing itself apart; without warning here in Ontario Canada we have just suffered through a heat wave of plus 30-degree Celsius weather in early May (a feat virtually unheard of, its our spring season for gods’ sake). Really – things are not looking so great. So, when you spend everyday in this world, and if your world consists of a crummy old laundry mat, crippling taxes (in a world where the wealthy don’t pay their fair share) while trying to deal with the shame of a father that has disowned you, and the fear that your dreams have died and withered away, while having a divorce served to you, it can understandably feel like you’re drowning. When you’re fighting for acceptance, you feel worthless and your miserable parent keeps repeating the mistakes of the past, and punishing you for it, it’s easy to find yourself taking all that pain and anger and using it to craft the world’s deadliest, and unholiest everything bagel that anybody has ever seen. I appreciate that this film gives a way for people to walk back their pain. Cinema is inherently an art of empathy; it literally forces you to wear someone’s shoes and then to walk that mile in their footsteps. It forces you to be Evelyn Wang, to feel her characters pain and to understand that her actions hurt everybody that she cares about. I think this film can also help people understand that they are responsible for crafting meaning in their lives, and that they shouldn’t give in to the crusty blackened bagels that haunt their existence and their countertops.

Every Frame a Painting Link: “Jackie Chan – How to Do Action Comedy” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z1PCtIaM_GQ

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