A weirdy but a goody

If you do not have a strategy for dealing with a certain degree of oddity and obscenity in your cinema, this one is probably not for you. But for viewers of a certain spiritual stature, at least this tall, ready for adult rides, and prepared to take the bad with the good, Everything Everywhere All at Once offers plenty of both.

The latest half mad foundling brainchild from the writer-director duo of Swiss Army Man, Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s Everything is an off-kilter regular joe kind of comedy of the likes of Hot Fuzz and American Ultra.

It starts out with just another day in the life of Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) and her family of Chinese-American laundry mat owners.

She is stressed and over-stretched, trying to pull together that evening’s New Years party, the impossible expectations of her live-in father Gong Gong (James Hong), his presumed intolerance of the girlfriend her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) insists on bringing around, the bumbling assistance of her ineffectual husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), and an audit from the IRS.

To make matters worse, it just so happens that today somebody is trying to kill her – from another dimension of the multiverse.

It’s a lot to manage.

Evelyn’s got to avoid getting murdered, assemble her receipts, and somehow reconnect with the husband and daughter she is teetering on the brink of alienating for good. And the only way to get there is to successfully access, channel, and avoid obsessing over the scattered skillsets of her spin-off personalities across an unnumbered expanse of branching universes.

Honestly, it is a lot to mange for us, too.

If you can imagine, the viewing experience is a little like trying to slurp down a smoothie made from random selections in your crazy aunt’s refrigerator, while the blender is still running and duct taped to the back of a wildly-glad-you’re-home-from-work yellow labrador.

In other words, it is complete bonkers chaos, and really stimulating to watch.

It is also surprisingly substantial.

Avoiding spoilers, one of the surprisingly beautiful themes in the film is the way Evelyn attempts to square the circle of repressed intergenerational conflict within her own home.

On the one side, her hide-bound traditionalist father Gong Gong drives her to the brink of perfectionist self-destruction. On the other, her radically relativistic daughther Joy pulls her ever nearer the edge of total nihilistic existential abandon.

In the desperate attempt to find some point of contact with her daughter, Evelyn chooses to embrace the chaos, symbolized in the film by a black-hole-like, all-devouring “everything” bagel. The absurdity of this image will give you a flavor of the film’s overall bizarro sense of humor – with a tweak or two, it might also supply at least a fleeting sense of that sacred absurdity Christians traditionally commemorate on Holy Saturday.

The day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, this is the moment when, according to the Creed, Jesus Christ descends into hell.

It is also the time, according to tradition, that he harrows it.

Frequently depicted with Christ holding the beam of his Cross to pry open the mouth of a giant dragon – then either pulling out the fallen Adam or himself diving in – Christ’s “raking” or breaking up of the underworld symbolizes his voluntarily entrance into the realm of death, chaos, and evil in order to plunder it, that is, pull repentant sinners free.

This is an astonishing Christian claim: that the God of all holiness does not simply shun all evil, but actively engages it in order to seek out, rescue, and restore whatever in it remains good.

This is not bad as a reminder for those of us who struggle to find hope in this world – it is also not a bad example for how to watch a film like this one.

It is complex, compassionate, confused, compelling.

It is often inappropriate. It is consistently interesting.

It gets a lot wrong. It gets a lot right.

If taken as the full Gospel truth it will doubtless amount to some heresy – maybe a version of patripassianism (hey google), wherein the Son’s temporary descent into chaos is not balanced by recognition of the Father’s heavenly permanence beyond it.

But if approached for what it is – not the final divine word on any topic, but lots of deeply human words on several – Everything Everywhere All At Once will almost certainly show you a few new things to think, if not also a few new ways to care.