Friday Film Review: Everything Everywhere All at Once

So, uh, this movie is about me.

I mean, it’s not about me. It’s about fictional characters played by people who are nothing like me.

But it could be about me, or you know, it might as well be about me.

I’m gonna start over by going back in time about 45 minutes to when I started this blog post. Bear with me a sec.

When I first started dating Tegan, back in 2013, I had a well-established dislike of horror movies. I’d seen a few, but I didn’t enjoy them, or the visions that they planted in my brain. It just seemed like a way to torture myself for no real gain. Kinda like watching Requiem for a Dream. Tegan convinced me to watch Cabin in the Woods, which is absolutely a horror movie, but it’s also more than that. It’s an interesting story about the “true origin” of humanity’s horror, from ancient monsters to modern-day slashers, with quite a bit of comedy worked in. It changed my mind. It’s not that I don’t enjoy horror movies, it’s that I don’t enjoy the ones that are horror without a meaningful or interesting plot. Cabin in the Woods is currently tied with Tucker and Dale vs. Evil as my favorite examples of the genre, and there are a few others that I like. They’re all ones that have horror as one part of an otherwise compelling story. It’s a central part, but it’s not the only thing going on.

I have similar feelings about movies that deal with intense emotional trauma and/or suffering. The aforementioned Requiem for a Dream might as well be a horror movie like the Jason series. It’s a cautionary tale about drugs, but it feels more like one of the Hell Houses that Christian fundamentalists use to scare each other about Damnation- grotesque and empty.

Tegan has now convinced me to watch Everything, Everywhere, All at Once, and it is a ride. The two paragraphs before this are the introduction because this movie starts out like it’s going to be about the grinding misery of a disappointing life. It shows us a person who’s constantly distracted, constantly in doubt, constantly failing, and seems to be unable to hear her family half the time when they’re talking.

It… It hit close to home. It’s not my life, but it’s what my life has felt like many times. I’m not going to lie – as the beginning progressed, I was very tempted back out. The thing is, it’s not not about that misery, but as with the best horror movies, there’s so much more that you only get a taste of that misery before things go in a literally improbable  and often hilarious direction. You never really have time to consider it again, except when it matters.

Which reminds me – have you read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? If you haven’t, you should. I’m sure it has it’s bad moments, but it really is a phenomenal work of storytelling, comedy, and imagination. I also suspect that it may have been an inspiration for Everything Everywhere All At Once. Specifically, a ship called The Heart of Gold. If you know, you know. If you don’t, you should at least read the first book in that series. Run along now!

Anyway, I was thinking about those similarities, but as the plot moved along, I suddenly felt like I was watching a version of the movie MirrorMask, but from a parallel universe, or maybe a universe that’s like almost parallel, but a little wobbly, so it bumps into ours from time to time.

MirrorMask, for those of you who don’t know, is a delightfully surreal fantasy movie from the mind of Neil Gaiman, in which a girl who escapes the turmoil of her life through art, finds her self pulled into a dying magical world populated by things she has drawn, and by strange, eccentric versions of the people in her life.

It sort of feels like a mix between Alice in Wonderland (I hope I don’t need to summarize that for you), and The Neverending Story (which would take far too long to summarize here), but it also has a bizarre and at times revolting sense of humor, as a multiverse of limitless possibilities vomits forth strange versions of the main cast that I guarantee you are not expecting. In a way, the sense of humor reminds me of what you’d encounter in a movie like Time Bandits.

Time Bandits is a movie directed by Terry Gilliam, starring the cast of Monty Python as well as a great many other people. It follows the story of a boy who’s caught up in a metaphysical heist, and is dragged through time, space, and different plains of reality. It’s a sort of zany, modern-day theodicy, with an ending that – to me – felt as unfulfilling (and entirely appropriate) as the ending of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a – ok, this time it was a joke. You may have noticed a theme in this review, jumping from one thing to another? Each one forms a connection to the next, and that to another beyond it in a never-ending chain. Did I mention the Neverending story already? Yes I did. I’m very sorry, but I lured you in with a movie review, and ended up trapping you in a creative writing project about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), I’m so very sorry, but this movie (you know, the single movie of which this is a review?) hit me pretty hard. It’s a phenomenal movie. The casting is amazing, and the acting is amazing from everyone involved (It also has a flavor of Kind Hearts and Coronets. If you know, you know.)

Everything Everywhere All At Once is a movie about a mother and a daughter who both have ADHD, and don’t know it. I honestly don’t know whether either of my parents has ADHD, but looking back I can see how it affected my childhood. I don’t have kids, and I don’t expect to, but I can empathize with a parent’s desire to keep their children from making the same old mistakes. How could anyone not? Every time I learn something new, I want to tell the world, because knowing feels so much better than not knowing. I also want a world with less pain. I want a life with less pain. Who wouldn’t? If I knew a way to make that happen, I’d do it in a heartbeat, but in the meantime, I also understand the desire to just… be numb. To be at peace. Have the noise just stop for one damned second. This paragraph is what this movie is about.

As a kid, I lost myself in things. Things that put me into a state of flow. Things that made me forget who I was, and what my life was like. I want to be clear – my life was good, compared to a lot of people, even in the small schools I went to. This isn’t me saying I come from a background of hardship, because I really don’t. Looking back, I know there were times we were tight on money, but never tight enough that I noticed it. That shouldn’t be a privilege, and it doesn’t have to be. It can and should be the norm, and that’s basically the core of this blog. The-

Fuck. I got sidetracked again.

There’s one more movie I want to bring in, and that’s how we’ll wrap this up. I’ve talked about all these other movies that started playing in my head as I watched, but this is the one I really want to compare it to.


I’m not going to summarize the movie. You’re safe from that now. All I will say is that it is one of those rare movies that makes you feel like your mind is being opened to just a hint of how huge and strange our universe is. To harken back to The Hitchiker’s Guide, Arrival is a little bit like the Total Perspective Vortex (on the planet Frogstar B). It gives you a taste of what it would be like to remember your future as you remember your past, existing in your entire life at every moment. Everything, everywhere, all at once.

Everything Everywhere All At Once is another Total Perspective Vortex movie, in more ways than one. It’s not a coincidence that I find this movie so relatable, and I’m not declaring it to be about ADHD just because it feels like this movie about a Chinese-American family is also about me. Like all original works of art (am I gonna get flamed for this?), the movie is about the people who who created it, and they say it’s about ADHD.

So I started doing some research. And then I stayed up until like, four in the morning, just reading everything I could find about it, just crying, just realizing that, “Oh, my God, I think I have ADHD.” So this movie is the reason why I got diagnosed. I got diagnosed, I went to therapy for a year and then went to a psychiatrist. And I’m now on meds, and it’s such a beautiful, cathartic experience to realize why your life has been so hard.

I’m intensely jealous. For those of you who’ve never tried, getting diagnosed with ADHD is still extremely difficult, at least as an adult. In Ireland, where I live, it’s functionally impossible for me, or for Tegan. The public system can’t accommodate, and the private system only gives a shit about rich people.

Watching Arrival for the first time was a revelatory experience. I consider it to be one of the greatest science fiction movies of all time, and Everything Everywhere All At Once now stands along side it. I’ve never cared about the Oscars before (and I don’t really now), but I think this ought to win Best Picture.

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So stop me if you’ve heard this one. A Buddhist monk is walking down the street in New York, and seeing a hotdog stand, decides he will get one. He approaches the stand, looks at the vendor, and says, “Make me one with everything.”


  1. K says

    Loved Arrival. Saw most of the other movies you referenced, but I’m not going anywhere near a movie theater in the USA, where the Covid rates are back to “ridiculously high”.

    There’s a lot written about the power of meditation in helping focus in those with ADHD. If medications aren’t available, have you looked into some other option such as that?

  2. says

    I’ve tried… a lot of things. I grew up meditating (It’s central to Quakerism as I practiced it) and it honestly didn’t help.

    I’m getting better at managing it, but I don’t believe it’s possible to brain my way out of a problem with my brain, you know? If I could maintain my current lifestyle, I doubt I’d even want treatment, but we don’t live in a world that really allows people to have the time to figure shit like this out.

    There’s a lot to like about how my brain works, but I would give a lot for the ability to decide when I can focus on something.

  3. says

    I will say that I view it as less of a disorder than a neurotype. As I mentioned to K, my current living situation leaves me with time and space to figure this shit out, without having to worry about other people’s schedules.

    That’s a big part of why free time has become such a central part of my vision of a better world. I don’t think I’m the only one who needed the sudden spike of free time in lockdown to realize that their pursuit of survival was mutually exclusive with pursuit of happiness, and that a change was needed.

    I think I need medication to fit into the 9-5 routine, but not necessarily for life in an actually free and just society.

  4. Stevko says

    Just yesterday a coworker recommended Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022) to me. So I am definitely going to watch it. I did not see Arrival (2016) but I read the short story it is based on. I liked it (I liked all that I read from Ted Chiang) but I did not think it was that good (I liked other of his stories more). But maybe I will watch it.
    Funny that you mention The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy now. Two days ago we had a Towel Day (see Wikipedia).
    And the joke at the end? It is not finished. There is another part.

  5. says

    So there is!

    The vendor pocketed the money, and handed the Buddhist monk his hot dog. The monk, after waiting for a moment, asked for his change. The vendor looked at him and said, “Change comes from within.” With a wistful smile, the monk walked away.

  6. K says

    Also agree on ADHD being a neurotype because everyone I know who says they have it are creative and aware of everything that goes on around them.

    Also agree that the pandemic lockdown showed a lot of people how much stupid random activity there is that produces nothing and is done just to meet some standard of “busy”. For example, work got done from home so much more efficiently without all the random interruptions and distractions. People with children realized they didn’t need to be ferried to 60 extracurriculars every week. There was more time to think.

  7. says

    I do know some folks with ADHD who will INSIST that they’re not creative, and I can’t say I’ve seen evidence that they’re wrong.

    That said, they do have that thing where their mind makes random connections, and I could see that coming across as creativity sometimes? Honestly, I don’t even know what the word means at this point.

  8. says

    …but I’m not going anywhere near a movie theater in the USA…

    I’ve been to a few theatres since 2021, and in my area at least (DC/VA), they’re almost always nearly empty. Sometimes my partner and I are the only ones there, most other times there’s only one other group.

    That said, they do have that thing where their mind makes random connections, and I could see that coming across as creativity sometimes? Honestly, I don’t even know what the word means at this point.

    Actually, that’s a large part of what we tend to call “creativity:” just new, often random combinations among lots of pre-existing ideas, concepts, memories, etc. I once saw a textbook that tried to define “creativity,” and it said a “creative person” tends to be “more perceptive than judgmental” (among other things, I don’t remember the rest). So yeah, the ability to take in new ideas or knowledge and let them mix-and-match in one’s head is part of the “creative” process.

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