An examination of Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s Everything Everywhere All at Once that considers how the film accurately depicts the way in which trauma can be passed down in families through generations…
by: Krystle Young Bowers
Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s Everything Everywhere All at Once is an enthralling movie about overcoming generational trauma that explores what it means to be successful. Uniquely, Everything Everywhere All at Once persists as both an exciting sci-fi multiverse adventure and a deep, emotional family drama. In the movie, Evelyn (played by Michelle Yeoh), the matriarch of the family, struggles for happiness in her life because she believes it is her responsibility to keep the family together. Her and her oddball husband Waymond (played by Ke Huy Quan of Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom and Goonies fame) own a laundry business that’s experiencing tax troubles which propels the action of the film as they make a trip to the IRS. At the IRS building Alpha Waymond, a Waymond from another universe, introduces himself to Evelyn. He alerts her that a great evil is destroying universes and that her help is needed. Soon Alpha Waymond begins fighting with martial arts skills that Evelyn has never seen her Waymond perform, causing her to believe the story about universe jumping. With this newfound verse jumping, Evelyn can use another version of herself to gain access to a bevy of skills which comes into play in the movie’s climax. But it must be noted before moving forward that the heart of the story focuses in on Jobu Tupaki, Evelyn’s daughter Joy (played by Stephanie Hsu), who in another universe was pushed beyond her limits by her mother causing her to go insane. Jobu and Waymond fight for Evelyn’s soul and ultimately, Evelyn wisely chooses Waymond’s fighting style to save Joy from killing herself. By the end, Evelyn shows her family that she’s working on repairing her emotional well-being, which was damaged by her father, Gong Gong.
Evelyn and Joy have much in common, particularly that they are treated the same way when making choices about their lives, decisions that both of their parents find disappointing. Gong Gong and Evelyn could not accept their child’s choices, which depresses and overwhelms them. Both Evelyn and Joy were raised to feel like disappointments to their parents, and deal with their feelings by passing it onto their child or falling into despair. Gong Gong disowned Evelyn when she chose to go with Waymond to America and Evelyn did not accept parts of Joy, such as her being gay or dropping out of college. Joy is Evelyn’s and Gong Gong’s “greatest fears squeezed into one person” because Gong Gong put the pressure to succeed his way on Evelyn and, in turn, Evelyn put that same pressure on Joy.
Throughout Everything Everywhere All at Once, mother and daughter were treated as an extension of their parent rather than a person with individual thoughts and actions. The first indication of Evelyn’s father’s disapproval in the film comes when Waymond says about Gong Gong “…he’s going to see you’ve nurtured a happy family and successful business. He’ll be proud of you.” But Evelyn views her home as an embarrassment and responds with “You know that’s not what he will see.” In turn, the audience can feel Joy’s anguish for the first time when she tries to introduce her girlfriend to her grandfather but forgets the Mandarin word for it, and Evelyn jumps offering the word for “friend” to avoid more disapproval from Gong Gong. By the end of the movie, Evelyn realizes the pain she caused Joy, anguish that is compounded in the multiverse. Just like Evelyn felt when she was a young girl wanting to marry Waymond without her father’s support, Gong Gong wanted what he thought was best for his daughter. Evelyn and Joy chose paths in life that make them seem aimless in regard to career and life. But what Gong Gong and Evelyn fail to realize, unlike Waymond, is that the most important thing in life is being a good person and loving family member.
Alpha Joy is the culmination of Evelyn’s high expectations placed on her child. Alpha Evelyn created Jobu Tupaki — the primary villain of the film — because she expected her to be able to withstand jumping to other universes, something that no one else was capable of doing. But when she finally received that power, Jobu used it to destroy. Since Jobu is the daughter of Evelyn in all her universes, she would only know how to be a disappointment to her family and that feeling would build and compound with each Joy that she visits. And we know that no matter what Joy did, she was always a disappointment to her mom because Jobu was able to do some amazing things, like jumping to other universes, fighting, and dancing. Throughout all that universe jumping, Joy was unable to find another way to climb out of her depression and nihilism because no version of Evelyn was able to resolve the childhood trauma from their life.
Waymond is the opposite of Jobu. He fights with benevolence while Jobu fights with hostility. At the commencement of the Everything Everywhere All At Once, Waymond attempts to talk to Evelyn about a possible divorce, but she won’t hear it. Evelyn has a difficult time listening to either Joy or Waymond because of her obsession with keeping the business and family running. When an old couple at the IRS building kiss, Waymond pays extra attention to it because he aches for a relationship similar to it. Waymond, too, is the embodiment of pacifism. Alpha Waymond fights with his fists, the reason he loses a fight with Deirdre, an IRS agent who can verse jump.
A pivotal moment in Everything Everywhere All at Once occurs amid a crucial speech between three different Waymonds, a scene which changes the way Evelyn views Jobu and herself. When Waymond states “being nice is how I fight,” Evelyn realizes just how much he has been fighting to keep their marriage together the entire time, and how little she’s contributed to that endeavor. When going through tough times, Waymond knows that compassion will make it a little easier for all involved. In those simultaneous speeches, she realizes that her decision to be with Waymond all those years ago was the right choice for her, but she held her father’s judgment so tightly that it eroded her feelings and mindset. Once she realized how much Gong Gong influenced her feelings, she was able to finally confront Gong Gong, exclaiming “It’s okay if you can’t be proud of me. Because I finally am.” In addition to that, she was able to challenge her father about how he treated her while realizing that they are doing the exact same thing to Joy. This leads to Evelyn finally introducing Becky as Joy’s girlfriend, a crucial moment in the film where she begins using the information of her opponents to do something nice to stop them from fighting.
Everything Everywhere All at Once comes to its emotional climax when Jobu comes to terms with the years of being belittled by one of two people who are supposed to love her unconditionally. Now convinced that Jobu and Joy are the same person, Evelyn opens her heart to the possibility that she’s the reason for Jobu’s mental state. Evelyn, Gong Gong, and Waymond work together in pulling Jobu back from the bagel (the ultimate expression of Jobu’s nihilism). With Evelyn as the driving force of this saving moment, we see the damage to Jobu’s mind that being Evelyn’s daughter has caused. She’s tired and depressed and wants to go into the bagel to kill herself. Evelyn almost lets her go but she’s able to change Joy’s mind when she states “you are getting fat, and you never call…but I still want to be here with you.” The expectations of the two display a generational difference too. Joy needs verbal confirmation of the love, while Evelyn struggles to express her love. While Evelyn’s expression of love for Joy doesn’t perfectly resolve the trauma, Joy is able to see the change and gain hope that Evelyn can be the mother that uplifts her.
Krystle Young Bowers loves reading books, watching movies, and writing. She trained to be a biologist and writes in her spare time. Krystle is a member of the Seminole Tribe of Florida and lives in Hollywood, FL where she grew up.