Everything, Everywhere, All at Once

This is another film I would have loved to see in a movie theatre, but was too busy to see when it was first out. Given its success in the Oscars, it may be back in cinemas again, but I have no car right now so I had to watch it on the small screen. That may have been less than ideal.

Let’s start with the obvious stuff. It seems to me that it is a great movie about an East Asian couple trying to come to terms with life in America. I say “seems” because I’m not Asian-American and this is very clearly a film made by and for that community and it is not my place to judge the stories they tell about themselves.

Regardless, it is a great piece of movie-making. Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan totally deserved their Oscars. Stephanie Hsu deserved one too, but they gave it to the white lady with a trans kid because that was a political point that needed making too. Hopefully Hsu has a long and successful career ahead of her. The visuals were amazing too, which is why I think I missed out not seeing it on a big screen.

So far so good, but I have a concern. Ostensibly the film is set in a multiverse, which makes it, well, probably fantasy. But the more I saw of it, the more I wondered how much of that we were supposed to believe was real.

The film reminded me of that famous TV interview with JRR Tolkien in which he insists that he did not write allegory. Middle Earth might be a place that he made up, but it was a real place that he made up, not some imaginary place that only existed to make a point.

The problem I have with Everything, Everywhere, All at Once is that it reminds me of those Victorian morality tales where the bad person (in this case Evelyn) is transported to a fantasy world, learns the error of their ways, and then wakes up vowing to be a better person in future. As such, while it is a great film, I’m not sure it is a great SF&F film.

Possibly the distinction I’m making here makes no sense in the context of East Asian literature. If that’s so, someone please tell me. I’m happy to learn. I’d also be interested to know if the directors, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, have said anything about this.

I still expect it to win a Hugo though.