A pastor’s call to watch “Everything Everywhere All at Once”

"Everything Everywhere All at Once" may be absurd and dance with nihilism, but it also contains important lessons connected to the Christian faith, writes Brendan McLean.

In another reality in the proverbial multiverse, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” did not win best picture at the 2023 Academy Awards. That was the future I predicted when I first saw the movie in May — and I’ve never been happier to be wrong.

Not only did “Everything Everywhere All at Once” win best picture and six other Academy Awards, but it is also the single most-awarded film of all time with a combined 264 Oscars, Golden Globes, Independent Spirit Awards, and various awards. While it took the movie industry, movie critics and fans, by storm, many people in my congregation still haven’t seen it.

Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) is an average Chinese mother who reluctantly becomes a superhero, jumping alternate worlds and absorbing powers to fight an evil villain. Photo by A24.

I can understand why. The movie is absurd and violent, with several martial arts fights using props that might even make some of the more open-minded people I know gasp. It has some moments that can be triggering for people in the LGBTQIA+ community who have complicated, strained or painful relationships with their families. It dances closely with nihilism.

But I still think everyone everywhere should see this film.

“Everything Everywhere All at Once” is overflowing with ideas, meditations and statements that so easily spill into our spiritual lives. Let me explain further with three quotes.

“You are not unlovable. There is always something to love. Even in a stupid, stupid universe where we have hotdogs for fingers, we get very good with our feet.”

The lead of “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is Evelyn Wang, a Chinese-American immigrant and laundromat owner being audited by the IRS . Evelyn discovers that there is a multiverse of parallel realities and then learns that these realities are being threatened by Jobu Tupaki, a powerful being who seeks to destroy all realities by hunting down each version of Evelyn. As Evelyn psychologically jumps into other realities, she discovers alternate versions of herself with different abilities and traits. In perhaps the most absurd reality, Evelyn finds that she and all other human beings have hotdogs for fingers. Additionally, in this reality, she finds herself in a relationship with the same IRS employee, Deidre, who is coldly auditing her in the main reality.

Understandably, when Evelyn first jumps into this reality, she is shocked and physically pushes Deidre aside. In a moment of realization later, Evelyn comes to understand that the only way to defeat Jobu, their minions, and the nihilism that drives them is to act with compassion and empathy. Across all the realities Evelyn is experiencing in that moment, this plays out in the hotdog finger universe when Evelyn comforts the confused and upset Deidre with this quote, which inspires her to masterfully play Debussy’s “Clair de lune” on the piano with her feet.

It’s a good reminder that we are not, in any possible sense of the word, unlovable. As Christians, this is a tenant of our faith. As Paul reminds us, there is indeed nothing in any form of reality that can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39). Furthermore, there is always something to love about us, as we each have unique abilities and capacities that make it absolutely possible for us to not only be loved but also to love in radically empathic ways. Even if we end up having hotdogs for fingers.

“When I choose to see the good side of things, I’m not being naïve. It is strategic and necessary. It’s how I learned to survive through everything.”

The tender and true heart of “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is Evelyn’s husband Waymond Wang, who defies the movie trope of the strong masculine fighter hero. Instead of punches, kicks and force, Waymond operates with kindness, optimism and the good-humored application of googly eyes to inanimate objects. Because of this, Evelyn looks down on Waymond, seeing his compassion as a weakness. She believes that Waymond wouldn’t survive without her.

The “evil” Jobu. Photo by A24.

At one point in the film, the main reality Evelyn jumps to an alternate universe where she finds that she is a famous Hollywood actor not unlike the actor who plays her, Michelle Yeoh. When she enters this reality, Evelyn revels in her stardom, feeling as though this is the life she could have lived without Waymond. Suddenly, she runs into the Hollywood version of Waymond, who is a successful and wealthy bachelor. Speaking privately, Hollywood Evelyn confides in Hollywood Waymond that the world is cruel, and nothing makes sense. She only survives because she fights — at the expense of her relationships. His response to her is the quote above, telling her that he is also a fighter. His weapons of choice may come across as weak but go beyond survival to flourishing. Waymond chooses to face the cruelness of life with hope, fighting nihilism with optimism. He knows that we need to be kind, especially when we don’t know what the heck is going on.

In this way, Waymond models the example of relentless, lovingkindness that we are called to be and do as Christians. In his “style” of fighting and survival, Waymond subverts our traditional and cultural understanding of what it means to “be strong and courageous” (Joshua 1:9), showing us that being strong and courageous means facing the hardness and harshness of the world with hope bolstered by the eternal hope we have in the abundant, unconditional love God has for all of us members of creation whom God calls good. As God is everlastingly kind to us, we are to be kind to one another in a world that doesn’t always make sense.

“I wasn’t looking for you so I could kill you. I was just looking for someone who could see what I see, feel what I feel.”

For most of the movie, Evelyn believes that Jobu’s goal is to kill every parallel version of her to destroy the multiverse. She is told that Jobu was forced to experience every parallel reality in the multiverse at the same time. As a result, they feel entirely unattached to anything happening in the universe and fully embrace the idea that nothing matters. In this perspective, Jobu is callous and cruel, mirroring what they know of the multiverse.

The hotdog finger universe. Photo by A24.

It is not until Evelyn finally comes face-to-face with Jobu that she learns the perceived villain’s true motivation, which they reveal in the quote above. They don’t want to kill every version of Evelyn and destroy the multiverse. They only want to find an equal, a companion, someone else who perceives the multiverse as they do.

Through this revelation, Jobu becomes a complex and sympathetic villain. While many of us may not agree with their violence, all of us can understand the fundamental human desire for companionship. This is why Jobu’s motivation reminds us of a powerful, sacred twofold truth: we are not alone and, thus, we are called to walk through the world alongside our neighbor in community. Because God loves us so much, we are compelled to love each other (1 John 4:11). What could be more loving than the act of solidarity, reminding our neighbor that they are not alone and that we are so glad to be here alongside them?

Ultimately, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” has many things that could possibly offend the sensibilities of many churchgoing people. Even still, in its bones, the movie is a beautiful, unique, heartfelt, and meaningful reminder that (just like Jesus tells us) love, kindness, and empathy conquer nihilism, cruelty and the things in this world that want to defeat us. Even if the world fights us with violence, hate and meaninglessness, the remarkable capacity we possess to love deeply and expansively – this gift given to us in love by God – will see us through. Love always wins.