A guttural cry from children of immigrants everywhereAllyson Maldonado
Apr 04, 2023
Photo courtesy of A24
A spoiler-ish guide as to how “Everything Everywhere All at Once” captures the essence of being part of a diaspora
A total of 404 award nominations and 264 wins.
2 Golden Globes, 7 Academy Awards.
A sensational award season for an even more sensational movie.
Since its release in 2022, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” has been praised and criticized endlessly as a film packed with nuance, symbolism and absurdity. A movie that, at its surface, is an adventure of jumping through multiverses on a mission to save the world. But also is one of the most significant stories about what it looks and feels like to be part of an immigrant family trying to understand each other and the emotional turmoil that comes along with it.
The film follows Evelyn Wang, a Chinese immigrant suffocated by the responsibilities of her “American Dream.” We learn later that her marriage is failing and her deteriorating relationship with her daughter, Joy, is beginning to boil over. Amongst her hardships, it becomes clearer as the film progresses that Evelyn is out of touch with herself and what she’s capable of.
In the beginning, Evelyn and Waymond are about to turn in their taxes. Things take a turn as we are then introduced to “Alpha Waymond,” a variation of Evelyn’s husband from another universe in the middle of the IRS office. He informs Evelyn that she is crucial to saving the multiverse and defeating “Jobu Tupaki,” a powerful and multiversal villain who happens to be a heavily neglected version of their daughter. Jobu Tupaki had been pushed too far, physically and emotionally due to the demands and expectations of her parents – a feeling that a lot of Asian Americans can relate to. How did this absurd film portray the experience of being a child of an immigrant, while flying through other universes to find your ideal self?
Evelyn – a mother, a laundromat owner and a daughter herself. This film tells the story of her regrets, fears and love for her family. She struggles to stay afloat, trying to take care of a business and her relationship with her daughter but at the cost of her relationship with Waymond, which slips through the cracks. Critics of the movie refer to Evelyn as the embodiment of the stereotypical “Tiger Mom,” which is loosely defined as Chinese parenting that is seen as highly controlling and uncaring by Americans. Tiger Moms are common and sometimes the standard for Asian American children growing up. This parenting can be disguised as “meaning well” or “having the best intentions,” but it can be hard to thrive under these conditions, leaving children feeling emotionally and physically neglected just as Joy feels throughout the film.
Photo courtesy of A24
Evelyn holds her own traumas that she never processed. Leaving her homeland young, starting the business with Waymond and abandoning her family. This experience feels familiar, as many who are part of the Asian American diaspora saw their parents follow the same journey. It is revealed that Evelyn resents this decision and in turn, blames Waymond and her father – something that seeps into how she parents Joy. Evelyn’s trauma of becoming a “disappointment” in her father’s eyes pains her deeply and is the source of the generational trauma that comes to affect Joy. The concept of “generational trauma” has become more acknowledged and explored in recent years; films and books alike represent ideas of generational trauma and how these experiences can send ripples through families for decades if not addressed.
One of the main themes in EEAO is regret. As Evelyn jumps through the universes, the audience sees what could have been – all the small choices that could have led her down a different path. In one life a chef, in another a movie star and even a kung-fu master. Evelyn yearns for these other paths, feeling as if her current life in her original universe is not enough and seeing it as a disappointment. All the paths happen because she chooses to leave with Waymond to start a new life. Evelyn comes to the conclusion that Waymond was the problem. These ideas that Evelyn has – thinking that her life could be better had she not come to the United States – are reminiscent of thoughts that many children of immigrant households can relate to. Things like, “I came here for you so you could have a better opportunity,” or the sense of fatigue that comes from the “American Dream” where parents are driven to work to the bone because they’re working for these opportunities for their children. Evelyn becomes so blinded by regret that she fails to see that her decision to leave with Waymond once made her happy.
Waymond Wang — a father, a husband, a fighter and a lover. We follow three different Waymonds (Alpha, Tax, and CEO). Tax Waymond is married to Evelyn in the main universe, and it is clear that he has the intent to divorce Evelyn, saying that she does not pay attention to him anymore. Evelyn continues to dismiss him as she balances all the mundane responsibilities weighing on her at once. Evelyn thinks that he slacks off, always being too nice and not being able to stand up for himself. By the end of the film, however, we come to the resolution with Evelyn that Waymond is actually the opposite as he states, “When I choose to see the good side of things, I’m not being naive. It is strategic and necessary. It’s how I’ve learned to survive through everything.” This idea compliments Evelyn’s Tiger Mom qualities as she continues to lash out at Joy and to strain their relationship. Waymond is not confrontational, doing what is asked and letting Evelyn take the brunt of the responsibilities as their overall parenting styles have led their relationship with Joy to feel strained and forced in some areas– something that leads children to feel emotionally neglected once again resonates across the Asian American diaspora.
Photo courtesy of A24
In another universe where Evelyn never leaves with him, audiences meet CEO Waymond. He finds her, and this is where we hear the infamous line: “In another life, I would have really liked just doing laundry and taxes with you.” The unconditional love that Waymond has for Evelyn across the universes manifests as he continues to search for her in all lives. In some families, this is the case, no matter how the love manifests there is love. Husbands and wives sacrificed everything to start a new life and that is something that resonates heavily in the film and Asian American families.
…and a multiversal villain?
Evelyn and Waymond’s daughter: Joy Wang in one universe and Jobu Tupaki in another. She’s nihilistic, queer and simply human. In Evelyn’s home universe, her and Joy’s relationship is estranged in a way familiar to those who may also have a Tiger Mom. Evelyn’s parenting is harsh, and Joy struggles to continue to deal with her mother’s controlling tendencies in the movie. Tension builds until Joy finally confronts her mother and says, “I don’t want to hurt anymore. And for some reason when I’m with you, it just hurts the both of us.” In many Asian immigrant families, sometimes it can feel suffocating to continue on in this way – so much so that there may be points where individuals can feel as if leaving may be the only option if nothing changes.
As for Jobu Tupaki, she is the multiversal villain set on showing Evelyn that nothing matters. In a way, Tupaki is an embodiment of a different type of abandonment: physical versus emotional abandonment that Joy had felt her entire life. Something that Asian American children can relate to, although their parents may not have been physically abusive, is the emotional toll that their parents had on them, which can manifest in ways that will follow them for years and are now their burden to bear. Tupaki goes on to travel through the universes to find Evelyn and persuade her to destroy the multiverses. But in a turn of events, Evelyn doesn’t; she pleads with Tupaki to change, to live for the small moments where things do matter, and that life can have a purpose. In the end, we’re reminded that this is a movie about a single family and how we can all do our part to understand each other more and cherish the time we have with one another.
All photos courtesy of A24 from the film “Everything Everywhere All at Once”
About the Author: Allyson Maldonado is an Applied Physiology and Kinesiology 3rd-year undergraduate student at the University of Florida. Involved with Pride Student Union, and writing for Smathers Libraries as a Discovery Fellow. They hope to use Sparks to be able to write about the Asian American experience and continue to grow with their identity as an Asian American.