Taxes…they suck. Although I’m not writing a piece that discusses the nuances of why this country can’t just send its citizens the bill to make it easier for everyone, or the ridiculous amount of lobbying that companies such as TurboTax do to ensure their services are needed, there is something about doing taxes that needs to be discussed: the process represents something greater about this life that we live on this here floating rock. And rather than learning this in one of those Philosophy courses that some of you take, I spent a few dollars — drastically less than Yale’s tuition — and watched the two-hour masterpiece, “Everything Everywhere All At Once.”
“Everything Everywhere All At Once” focuses on the protagonist Evelyn Wang — played by the incredible Michelle Yeoh — as she and her husband, Waymond, scramble to complete their taxes since the IRS is auditing their laundromat. As Evelyn attempts to make sense of the endless piles of receipts and forms that are on the Wang’s dining room table, the constant distractions of maintaining their family-owned business, important discussions with her daughter, Joy Wang, about coming out to Evelyn’s medically-assisted father and her divorce-seeking husband desperately vying for attention are weighing on the backs of her shoulders.
Like many people can understand, the Wangs run to the IRS trying to meet a deadline that, with all things considered, seems impossible. But as Evelyn sits in her appointment with the evil but lonesome — and maybe caring, really just depends on what timeline we are talking about here — IRS agent, Deirdre Beaubeidra, who asks her questions and cites titles of forms that seem foreign to her, also with good reason, Evelyn begins splintering into different timelines within the multiverse. She experiences different versions of herself and what her life could be, as she attempts to stop the seemingly villainous Jobu Tupaki from sucking the entire existence of the universe into a bagel that holds the answer to everything — get it…an everything bagel…how clever).
A film that proposes a conflict that is already stressful enough — because doing taxes or literally anything fiscal-related indeed feels like taking a pipe to the face at full swing, as Evelyn does in one of the first of many multiverse deaths that occur — quickly pushes the envelope and creates one of the most imaginative and daring stories I have ever had the pleasure to witness. “Everything Everywhere All At Once” accomplishes near-mastery on all accounts: writing, visual effects, acting, set and costume design and more. In addition to this feat, the film cleverly grounds itself amongst all of its absurdist and reality-warping external conflicts by presenting an internal conflict that the entire Wang family faces no matter what timeline Evelyn is experiencing.
This internal conflict is developed as soon as the opening sequence commences. The film opens with a mirror shot of the Wangs singing on their karaoke machine and shows the beauty in the simple enjoyment of one another’s presence, slowly zooming into a special and magical moment — but is then paralleled by a stressed and almost broken family who cannot seem to understand one another and the complexities of their most vulnerable emotions such as fear of failure, fear of being unloved or feeling supported. The film does not shy away from topics such as generational trauma, marital strain, regret and mental health but instead embraces these topics to better get at the director’s intent. “Everything Everywhere All At Once” takes the pessimistic philosophy that life is filled with pointless monotony and hardships and forces it to confront the optimistic philosophy that love and empathy are the purposes of this complicated, sometimes seemingly futile and terrifying existence. What we, as the audience, get as a result of this philosophical battle is the understanding that life may be Sisyphean at times — especially when doing such horrid tasks like your taxes — but those beautiful moments filled with undeniable love and gratitude make pushing that rock up that seemingly never-ending hill all worthwhile.
I would be remiss to not mention how important this film is not only in its philosophical implications but also in its incredible representation that audiences have been begging for and proving time and time again are worth the production. Yeoh herself even said in an interview that when she first read the script, “This is something I’ve been waiting for.” “Everything Everywhere All At Once” does an excellent job at depicting language, cultural traditions and confronting the way culture can influence life by presenting all the many different ways Evelyn could have ended up in her adulthood. The film also wonderfully depicts a queer love story but also a story of accepting one’s queer identity, which is a truly remarkable thing to see on screen. The film’s existence and success only prove the validity of the claim that diverse stories are a necessary part of storytelling and just how much audiences want to see reflections of themselves on screen.
“Everything Everywhere All At Once” is currently showing at the Criterion Bowtie Cinema on Temple Street, following a recent expansion of the film’s screening.