The simple explanation for Everything Everywhere All At Once is that it’s about generational trauma. There’s that phrase: Hurt people hurt people. Meaning that someone living with trauma will often inflict trauma on the ones closest to them. Which is exactly what we see with Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh). When she decided to marry Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), her father, Gong Gong (James Hong), disapproved. Evelyn felt blackballed by her parents, abandoned by them. And it led to a lot of unprocessed guilt and anger. She seethed. She blamed Waymond and distanced herself from him physically and emotionally. Then she inflicted the same disparaging judgment upon Joy (Stephanie Hsu), leaving Joy with more than a little trauma of her own.
The entire plot revolves around bringing Evelyn to a point where she can recognize her own trauma and the effect its had on her husband and daughter. Only once she recognizes it can she find catharsis and begin to move on and make changes in her life.
If you want a longer answer or have more questions, let’s get into it.
The meaning of the title Everything Everywhere All at Once
My favorite thing about the title is that it’s a series of ultimates. It’s not one thing or two things, or even a million things. It’s everything. And it’s not just here or there or a million places. It’s everywhere. And it’s not one at a time, or a few at a time, or even a million at a time. It’s all at once. There’s an intensity to that. An overwhelmingness that can feel daunting without you even realizing it. It’s such a smart title because it works on both the story level and the thematic level.
Story-wise, it refers to the verse-jumping and the fracturing that gives unprecedented power to Jobu Tupaki (Stephanie Hsu) and, eventually, Evelyn. Like Alpha Waymond was some things, some places, some of the time. And Evenlyn, when she first begins to verse-jump, was also some things, some places, some of the time. It’s not until Evelyn does her burst jumping that she attains the power of being everything, everywhere, all at once.
Thematically, it gets at the bagel—Jobu Tupaki’s everything bagel that Alpha Waymond fears will destroy the universe. Jobu explains she used her powers to put everything onto the bagel. The result is negation. A black hole. Everything equals nothing. The same thing happens with colors. Take a box of 256 crayons, draw a circle, then use every single crayon to fill the circle.. By the end, all the brightness will be gone. You’re left with something dark and gloomy. It’s crushing. Jobu Tupaki embodies this negative state of being. When you experience everything, the highs and lows wash out. For every miracle, there’s catastrophe. For every joy, there’s tragedy. You become numb to it all. Novelty wears thin, wears off, and you’re left feeling nothing. The only thing left is to become nothing.
But there’s a flipside to that, right? While Evelyn initially understands where Jobu Tupaki’s coming from with all the ennui and nihilism, and begins to fall into the horror of it all, ultimately, she rejects that point of view. Instead of being defeated the way Jobu Tupaki is, Evelyn finds peace. Having been everything and everywhere, she’s finally satisfied to just be one thing, in one place. Her breakthrough leads to her saving her daughter and the two of them coming to terms with life’s imensities. It’s like having tried every crayon from the 256 box, you realize it’s okay to pick one and be happy with that one.
Of course, the title also refers to the movie’s three parts. Part 1: Everything, introduces us to verse-jumping and the ability to gain whatever skill you want or need. You can be anything and everything. Part 2: Everywhere, breaks the movie wide open, as Evelyn fractures her mind and jumps, with Joy, from universe to universe to universe. And Part 3: All at Once sees Evelyn and Joy at peace, as they’ve managed to come to terms with the everything and everywhere of it all and have mastered just being present with the ones they love.
The end of Everything Everywhere All at Once explained
The end is mostly a moment of contrast. Which is a common and powerful technique in narratives. For example, you might start a movie with the main character as a child, standing on a street corner, watching a funeral convoy pass by. The police leading the way. The black hearse. All the vehicles with the flags attached to their hood or roof. The kid is fascinated by it but ignorant of the emotion behind it. It’s someone else’s loss. It’s someone else’s pain and grief. The rest of the movie shows this kid grow up, fall in love, then lose their significant other in some tragedy. The last scene is the funeral. The service happens then everyone gets in their cars. As the character rides to the cemetery, they look out the window and see a kid on the sidewalk, watching the convoy roll past.
That ending is satisfying because you come full circle. The character was an outsider to death. But at the end, they’re introduced to it. They understand what it means to be one of the people in the convoy. The pain. The grief. But also the beauty of having had someone to love.
So Everything Everywhere does this with the tax office. The first time the Wang family is there, it’s terrible. Evelyn’s distracted by Alpha Waymond. Her Waymod’s desperately trying to plead with IRS inspector Deirdre Beaubeidre (Jamie Lee Curtis). Gong Gong is negative as can be. Joy isn’t there because Evelyn was a jerk to her. And Deirdre is being a jerk. Speaking of Deirdre, it’s easy to think of her as the enemy. But, really, like with most conflict in Everything Everywhere: Evelyn’s the problem. She didn’t do the taxes right. She isn’t making it easy on Deirdre to give them a reprieve. A tense situation nearly goes off the rails because Evelyn’s in such a negative place. It’s a little on the nose, but the lack of “joy” is apparent.
Thankfully, things are better at the end. Evelyn’s had her breakthrough. She’s found peace with her life. She’s able to show affection to Waymond because she no longer blames him for ruining her relationship with her father. She’s comfortable with her father because she finally confronted him about abandoning her for marrying Waymond—she no longer fears further abandonment. And Joy is there, both literally and figuratively. Three generations, together in the tax office. The family energy is positive and amicable. And Deirdre responds to that. You’re left with the sense that everything with the taxes will be okay and the family will move forward and be happier than ever.
There is a moment where Evelyn starts to zone out the same way she had in the first office scene when talking with Alpha Waymond in the closet. You hear a medley of voices (and the cry of an eagle?). Some are normal and neutral, one actually sounds a little sinister. This shows Evelyn is still “everywhere.” There’s still that pull of the thrill and terror of everything. But she makes the choice to stay here and now. To be this Evelyn. When Deirdre asks her if she’s listening, Evenlyn isn’t defensive the way she was during the first IRS visit. Instead, she politely asks, “Sorry. What did you say?” The self-consciousness is gone. Her fear and pettiness are gone. It’s really nice to see.
Also, it’s worth pointing out how Part 3 opens with the entire family at the dinner table. They’re working together to get everything ready for the tax office. It’s Evelyn, Waymond, Gong Gong, and Joy. There’s positive communication. Organization. Teamwork. Everyone’s chipping in and Evelyn’s cool with it. Now think back to film’s opening scenes. The very first time we see Evelyn, she’s at that table, alone. Overwhelmed. Not sure what to do with the taxes. And Waymond comes in and says, “I know better than to ask to help you.” So right up front you’re told Evelyn is a loner who won’t accept help from anyone and really views Waymond as a nuisance rather than a partner. Which is why it’s meaningful when Part 3 opens with everyone at the table. Evelyn’s finally ready to let others in. To ask for and receive help. It’s not much of a family if you can’t do that.
So the end of Everything Everywhere gives us two full-circle moments that show how much the family has grown. All that negativity is gone and the happiness is palpable.
What’s the bagel mean?
As we talked about in the title section, the everything bagel Jobu Tupaki creates becomes symbolic of her nihilism, depression, and desire for annihilation. Philosophically speaking, if you’re everything, everywhere, all at once, then you’re nothing. Think about it in terms of relationships. If your significant other gave as much time to you as they did every single person in their life, how would you feel? Probably not great. And the flip side is true too. If you said “yes” to everyone who asked you to do something, whether it’s your loved one, family member, best friend, coworker, or a complete stranger on the street—it would be exhausting. By setting boundaries, you let people know where they stand. By spending more time with your spouse than your friends, you let your spouse know how important they are to you. The opposite is probably true with someone you just started dating. You don’t spend every waking minute with them because they’re not as important (yet) as your established circle of family and friends.
You can also use learning skills as an example. For ease of use, let’s use the (now outdated) 10,000 hour rule. It takes 10,000 hours of practice at something to become a “master” of it. If you practiced for 3 hours a day, every day, that’s 1095 hours a year. It would take Nine years to reach 10,000 hours. What happens if you divide that time. You’re not just practicing one thing but three things. Now it’s 1 hour a day for each thing, meaning it would take you 27 years to reach 10,000 hours. The more skills you try and learn at once, the harder it is to become good at any of them. That’s why we have the old idiom, “Jack of all trades, master of none.”
So we create importance in our lives through being selective. Not pleasing everyone. Not being there for everyone. Not trying to do everything there is to do. That’s how you build meaningful relationships with people, places, and things. It’s how you develop prowess, technique, expertise.
The bagel is just a funny way to represent all of this. A play on the popular “everything bagel” you see in most bagel shops. In reality, that bagel usually has a medley of toppings that include salt, pepper, onion, sesame seeds, garlic, etc. It’s not literally everything. Just exaggeration since there is a lot. But it serves as a comedic but poignant metaphor that something so silly can represent life’s void.
But there is more going on. It’s not quite so simple as “isn’t that fun!” Remember in the opening scene, Joy shows up to the laundromat. Evelyn can’t help but pick fights. She takes stab after stab at Joy. You think the lowest she’ll go is telling Joy to keep Joy’s relationship with Becky (Tallie Medel) a secret from Gong Gong. That breaks Joy’s heart. She and Becky start to leave, are out in the parking lot, keys in hand, at the car, when Evelyn chases out after them. You think, for just a second, Evelyn will apologize. Instead, she tells Joy, “You have to try and eat healthier. You are getting fat.” Joy starts to cry and gets into the car with her girlfriend and leaves. It’s brutal. And definitely Evelyn’s low point as a mother.
It makes sense then that we end up with the everything bagel representing Joy’s depression and the way in which everything in the world becomes too much. The film already has Evelyn link food to Joy’s mortality—”You need to eat healthier.” So when Joy/Jobu Tupaki thinks about the opposite of health, the end of her own life, she goes right to food. And even though Jobu isn’t the Joy we see in that scene, you can imagine Jobu’s Alpha Evelyn was just as ruthless. It’s one of those things where the Daniels (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) didn’t need to explain why they went with the bagel. The gag would have been fine on its own and fit the tone of the film. But they made the smart choice to give it some kind of logic within the dynamic between Evelyn and Joy. A single, simple line of dialogue can do so much work.
There’s another interesting thing about the bagel and what it has to do with the googly eyes. Let’s give that it’s own section.
The meaning of the googly eyes and their connection to the everything bagel
One of my favorite things about Everything Everywhere All at Once is the relationship between the everything bagel and the googly eyes.
So googly eyes are, normally, just dumb, fun things usually used to entertain kids. You put googly eyes on a popsicle stick and suddenly you have Nickelodeon’s 90s mascot Stick Stickly. Put them on a baseball and the ball transforms from an inanimate thing to a Disney character. They’re harmless fun and a simple way to transform the world around you.
Our introduction to them in Everything Everywhere is in the opening scene. Evelyn is in a hurry, moving through the laundromat, when she discovers one of the washing machine doors has eyes on it. This doesn’t entertain Evelyn. Doesn’t even bring her a smile. Instead, she’s upset by it and takes them down without a second thought. She even goes on to scold Waymond for doing it. Of course, by the end of the movie, Evelyn realizes Waymond is the one bringing joy into her life and into the world and how necessary joy is, even if the source of it is something as silly as googly eyes.
You have that wonderful moment when transcended Evelyn puts the googly eye on her own forehead. The placement represents her “third eye” opening up. The idea of the third eye has long been popular in philosophy, Chinese religion (Taoism) and anything dealing with chakras. It’s usually related to the inner eye. You’ll hear it referred to as the mind’s eye. It’s associated with enlightenment and seeing beyond the superficial. In terms of the movie, Evelyn’s awakening coincides with her breakthrough understanding that everything isn’t pointless. The nihilism preached by Jobu Tupaki is not the ultimate way of viewing the world.
Instead, you have Waymond who stays endlessly positive in the midst of everything awful. It’s his positivity and honesty and vulnerability that stops Deirdre from seizing the laundromat. And Evelyn realizes it’s Waymond who has spent years keeping her from her own personal void (despite her best efforts to ruin him). This emotional realization is hard to convey visually. So the Daniels used the googly eye third-eye placement to not only demonstrate Evenlyn’s enlightenment but its association with Waymond’s fun-loving spirit.
Now, finally, the cool thing. When you look at the googly eye, it’s a white circle with a smaller black circle (for the pupil). When you look at Jobu Tupaki’s everything bagel of destruction, it’s a black circle with a smaller white circle (the hole at the center of the bagel). They’re inverted entities. And in the film one represents extinction while the other represents hope. In that final fight, you have all these “enemies” who follow Jobu and the way of the bagel. One by one, Evelyn goes through and uses her newfound perspective to switch these people from a negative charge to a positive charge. To make it even more obvious, the Jobu people often had a bagel painted on their foreheads. This really cements the relationship between bagel and googly eye (as if the visual match wasn’t enough).
Did Joy’s name being Joy have meaning?
If you read this far, you already know the answer.
But, yes, it does. Evelyn’s struggled to be happy. To be satisfied. She has little in the way of Joy in her life. So there’s a whole thematic and symbolic level to her daughter having that name and the strained relationship the two of them have. But it works for the story as her fixing her relationship with her daughter is really Evelyn fixing her relationship with herself. Having a healthy relationship with Joy means having a healthy relationship with joy.
What’s the primary timeline of Everything Everywhere All at Once?
This is actually a pretty interesting question. There’s the Alpha timeline where Alpha Waymond, Alpha Gong Gong, and Jobu Tupaki come from. That’s where verse-jumping originated. So in terms of the overall story, the sci-fi Alphaverse would be the primary timeline.
But in terms of the viewer’s relationship with the story, our primary universe is the one where Evelyn punches Deirdre and kicks off all the interdimensional madness. The same one where she stabs Waymond with the glass. The same one where she puts the googly eye on her forehead and comedy fights all of Jobu’s goons. The same one where she saves Jobu from the bagel/void. Even though that’s the primary world, it’s not the one where the movie ends.
Which makes sense, right? After everything that happened in that universe, how could Evelyn and her family wake up the next day worried about taxes. They nearly destroyed the entire IRS building. It wouldn’t be back to business as usual. Instead, it seems that Evelyn and Jobu re-locate their primary consciousness to a tangential world that was nearly identical to where we started. Except in that universe, Alpha Waymond never contacted Evelyn. Jobu Tupaki never showed up. It’s a branch originating from what we saw take place before Evelyn punched Deirdre. So all the things from that morning still happened, but the characters went home from the IRS building to prepare and host the Chinese New Year party that night.
This becomes the new primary timeline (as far as the viewer is concerned). It’s essentially the “what if everything just played out normally without all the multiversal madness.” Meaning there is a version of the story that is just a reality-based drama. Evelyn never meets any of her other selves but has her breakdown at the party once Deirdre shows up to seize the laundromat. She busts the windows. Signs divorce papers. Cries. And ultimately realizes Waymond is awesome and she’s been miserable and it’s all because her dad hurt her and she’s never processed it in a healthy way. She connects with Deirdre. Confronts her father. Recommitts to her husband. And makes amends with her daughter.
That’s the universe Everything Evelyn and Everything Jobu Tupaki decide to reside in. Since they already have access to all their selves in all the universes, it’s just a matter of settling into one self, in one universe. And I guess it’s the least invasive? You imagine if our Evelyn decided to live in the Martial Arts Evelyn’s universe, it would almost be a body snatching because she’d take over that Evelyn the same way Alpha Waymond took over our Waymond. Two consciousnesses can’t exist at the same time. I’d actually love to ask the Daniels how that works. Because that would mean Joy at the end is Jobu. Who is Joy, right? It’s not like a completely different person. And she would have all the memories of our Joy. But, still. Just something to note.
Thanks for reading
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