Ideas don’t need to be new to be powerful. That’s the great thing about art: anyone can express an idea in their own way and give it new life.
Watching Everything Everywhere All At Once was pretty overwhelming. If you’re not familiar, the film follows haggard laundromat operator Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) as she bounces across parallel universes, guided by her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) from “the alphaverse” to stop their daughter Joy/Jobu Tupaki (Stephanie Hsu)—also from the alphaverse—from destroying everything by jumping into a giant, nihilistic everything bagel. I know, it’s a lot.
The film is a bonkers, surreal romp designed to navigate complex subjects and pull the viewer into Evelyn’s drinking-from-the-firehose experience of discovery & eventual awakening. There is plenty of subject matter to digest as the film barrels ahead: the importance of even the smallest choices, the struggle for true intimacy, the search for approval, choosing hope over despair, and the self-discovery and unconditional acceptance of others in Evelyn’s redemptive arc, just to name a few. And, yes, that’s all important. It’s especially good that Evelyn learns from her experiences and chooses to atone. That’s the hopeful takeaway for all of us: it’s never too late to wake up and evolve.
Then there’s Waymond.
Waymond embodies a real subversion of norms, especially those surrounding masculinity. He’s sweet, sensitive, emotional, polite, and domestic. He leads with levity and kindness, battling to win over the crotchety tax auditor with cookies and earnesty, and countering the drudgery and stress of running the laundromat by dancing with customers and sticking googly eyes on everything.
Of course, his multi-Waymond, across-the-universes speech is the pivot point for Evelyn, and a reasoned explanation for his goofy behavior. But more than that, it’s the beating heart of the film:
Evelyn’s Waymond: Please! Please! Can we… can we just stop fighting?
(Business Waymond: You tell me that it’s a cruel world, and that we’re all just running around in circles. I know that. I’ve been on this earth just as many days as you.)
Evelyn’s Waymond: I know you are all fighting because you are scared and confused. I’m confused too. All day… I don’t know what the heck is going on. But somehow, this feels like it’s all my fault.
(Business Waymond: 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.)
Evelyn’s Waymond: I don’t know. The only thing I do know is that we have to be kind. Please, be kind. Especially when we don’t know what’s going on.
(Business Waymond: I know you see yourself as a fighter. Well, I see myself as one too. This is how I fight.)
This is the moment Evelyn begins to transform; fighting with kindness, she hilariously disarms her enemies by manifesting exactly what each of them need to be happy. Kindness—and everything it engenders—is revealed as the ultimate strength, and fighting like Waymond is what averts disaster and gives Evelyn the chance to pursue a life worth living.
Kindness is not a new concept, and it seems to have gained a lot more traction in recent years (yay!), probably as a response to the amplification of unkindness (boooo). But ideas don’t have to be new to be impactful. This scene struck a chord in me as well; packaging this idea into such a compelling vignette somehow made it more real than it had been before. I feel impressed to do better.
Cruelty is easy. Perhaps that’s why there’s so much of it out there, especially online, where the targets are so abstract. It’s also powerful. One only has to look at *gestures everywhere* to see the ruin it causes. I have to believe that kindness is equally potent, and that becoming, multiplying, and elevating the Waymonds in this world is the path forward. The more we can see people—especially men—embracing these the qualities of kindness, the more it’ll be normalized and mirrored.
That’s how we’ll fight.
(And voting for progress. Do that, too.)