Everything everywhere at once is about losing faith in God

It is no exaggeration to say that the directors of All at once is out to crush people’s intellect with their films. They consider it one of the great goals of the film. Directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert – often credited together as “Daniels” – are aware that they are making films for a media-savvy audience that will recognize their riffs on The Terminator, The Matrixand (in the film’s best cameo) 2001: A Space Odyssey. But while intervening in how familiar some of their images and quotes may seem, they also want to get around the way in which confidentiality helps an audience predict where a film is headed and keep their distance from it.

Which helps explain why Everything everywhere is such a fast-paced shower of great ideas and overwhelming images. Michelle Yeoh stars as Evelyn, a woman trapped in an adventure that drags her between the vastly different possible universes her life decisions could have led to. The film sets up an entire multiverse and a science fiction technology that lets people access it, but it’s still primarily a personal story about Evelyn and her relationships with her husband, daughter and father. Polygon recently sat down with Daniels to talk about the film’s biggest ideas and where they came from, and about the idea that it’s important to crack audiences so they have to take it all in at once.

This interview has been edited for clarity and precision.

Photo: Allyson Riggs / A24

Your work, both in film and in shorts, videos and other projects, has such a distinctive voice. At the same time, it’s so referential, with this film drawing from Kurt Vonnegut, Charlie Kaufman and Douglas Adams, with nods to everything from Ratatouille to The Matrix. Is it hard for you to withdraw from all the things you want to bring into your stories from other media and stories you love?

Daniel Kwan: We reflected just recently – film is the language that so many people speak and think these days, and that’s why we end up with these references –

Daniel Scheinert: It just feels more honest. When people talk about red-pilling, they do not even talk about The Matrix further. When people say “I feel like I’m in Truman Show“Right now they’re not even talking about the movie. It is the vernacular. The cinematic discussion has been absorbed in the lexicon of ordinary people. So for us, it just feels like the most honest way to write a movie, in some ways, is to constantly be aware of the context in which we all exist.

DK: So many times, the things that are most influential for us are not the ones we ended up putting in there. Ratatouille and 2001 just felt like the right jokes for these characters. It was not like we were really inspired by those movies.

DS: The things that really inspired the film were films like Holy Motorsor Groundhog Day, or Satoshi Kon’s anime. Something like that was really inspiring to the spirit and ethos and structure of the film.

There is a big theme running through your work, especially here and in Swiss army man, about how the way we connect to each other is what makes life worth living. It is a very humanistic philosophy, even a sentimental one. Where does that idea come from for you?

DK: It’s a strong signal coming from my brain. Because I was very religious when I was growing up. I was almost basically an evangelical Christian until I was in my 20s. And then slowly, slowly, and then suddenly it was gone. And that was kind of what this movie was trying to recreate. The moment Evelyn screams and she feels everything and she is completely unmoved and lost, it is the experience of losing God. It is the experience of not having a moral center and not having a focus on meaning, purpose. The second half of the film is basically that she is trying to do what I did, which is to crawl around in the darkness and the chaos, to find something worth living for, to find something worth fighting for. It’s clear in the movie that she finds it through her husband, but yeah, it’s all because of me. [Looks at Daniel Scheinert] Well, partly because of me. I’m sure you have some …

DS: [Very straight-faced] No. I’m just a well-adjusted, normal person who is not cynical or nihilistic at all. [Laughs]

It sounds like it needs a sarcasm mark.

DS: Yes, it’s a big sarcastic brand. I think it’s something we tied together early on. We are both romantics with a super high tolerance for cynicism and stare into the dark and talk about it. There is such a relief in talking about it with someone and not keeping it a secret and not trying to turn away from it. And then I’m going to make a beautiful breakfast now and I want to enjoy that shit out of it.

DK: Which is very Vonnegut. I think we were together about Vonnegut’s point of view because he’s so cynical. He has such a view of God that looks at his characters as these poor ants in their ant farms, and yet somehow finds a way to see them as human beings and give them something beautiful at the same time. It’s very compelling because I think the only way we can feel anything is if the person trying to tell a story first realizes how awful everything is, first realizes how dark everything is. , how pointless it all is. Then I can say, “Okay, now we can have a conversation, convince me why there is still beauty,” or whatever. Because if you just start with the beauty, I can not fully engage.

Michelle Yeoh stands in the family laundry in Everything Everywhere All At Once

Photo: Allyson Riggs / A24

One of Vonnegut’s biggest themes was “Be kind to each other”, which appears in Everything everywhere. But you wrap humanistic messages in such silly, exaggerated elements. Do you think it’s easier to get people to consider existential philosophy if you wrap it in humor?

DS: I think that’s what works for us. Vonnegut hits me harder than Camus. There is something about a well-laid joke that will take me seats without me being able to defend myself. I think life is a little absurd and people are a little absurd, so humorless art is tough on me.

DK: I feel that what we are trying to do extends beyond humor. Humor is an element of it, but I think it’s the fire of it all. We try to get past the intellect of our audience. I think right now that everyone is so well read that everyone has the right labels. The film structure is in their bones so they know exactly where they are in a movie at all times. They have a subconscious hour that tells them, “Okay, I have half an hour left and the hero has to get out of their lowest point …” There are all these things we’ve built around ourselves like a shield. , and it makes it impossible for art to penetrate in a true way. Everyone goes [Lofty connoisseur voice and gesture] “Oh yes.” It’s like drinking wine, where everyone just has to say things about it, because that’s how we interact with the world now, with this very objective, distant experience, just so we can feel in control.

This movie is meant to ruin all those things so you can not have that control. You must not have intellect. You can only feel and let the experience move right through you. It is only as you go through your life next week that small thoughts will emerge, and that is when you begin to think about it through the lens of the intellect. So humor is part of it, but I think it’s all just meant to destroy the wall of academia and intellect that we’re trapped in.

DS: But depending on your audience, you might as well just say “You know it’s a really wild action comedy.” [Both laugh]

The point where I felt the feeling of being broken down most strongly was in the laundry montage towards the end, where one sees what looks like a thousand different versions of Michelle Yeoh’s face. How did you go about assembling that sequence?

DK: I like to think of it as our version of 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s psychedelia. Just the fact that the image is only a medium-sized image of a woman’s face …

DS: We came up with the idea of ​​using it as a motif – we knew Michelle would look at the camera and jump through a few universes quite early, so we tried to shoot a lot of them, but with so little time and resources dedicated to it as possible. Quantity, not quality.

DK: Every time we were somewhere else, every time we had some downtime, we thought, “Just put the camera over here. Okay, that’s good. Now stand here and put on this jacket. Okay, great.” We would try to sneak as much practical, genuine Evelyn into as many places as possible.

DS: Then we shot Michelle on a green screen. We collected the materials we had recorded on site, the greenscreen stuff and had a small folder for our visual effects team. And we said, “You can do whatever you want. Put her where you want, then we might put it in the movie.” So it was a kind of open task during the post-production process.

DK: We had it segmented from so we, they could choose the lighting they wanted, and then we accelerated it so fast that it did nothing.

DS: So they could go in and pick a still image and say, “Oh, a blue Michelle, backlit. I want to put her in Antarctica.” So I took about 50 or 60 of those things, and everything we shot on the spot, and cut it up. It’s kind of a metaphor for how we generally managed the film.

DK: Especially for the things that did not matter. There are a few things that we checked, like “These have to be just right, and the rest of it, do what you want.”

DS: “Do what you can, whatever you are good at.” So everyone stepped forward and brought it. And it was fun for us because we would be surprised.

DK: And then I asked Son Lux to give me a drum solo, just to go crazy. “Start small and lift up!” And I took it and cut it up, and then we made the first editing pass to the rhythm of it.

DS: So Ian Chang from Son Lux created that kind of jazz rhythms and these things to try to surprise us, and then we used that as a guide.

DK: It’s a bit like a cosmic gumbo. [Both laugh]

DS: We try to sneak it into as many interviews as we can.

To me, perhaps the heaviest idea in a film full of heavy ideas is the idea that failure is the possibility that all of Evelyn’s dead ends are access points to power. As if to say, “Your weaknesses are your strengths.” How did you decide to make it a central conceit?

DK: That was what unlocks the whole premise, for it became a joke, and became something people echoed. When we said, “Oh, this is the worst version of Evelyn,” that’s why she connected with so many universes. It did not come as a philosophical place from. It just made logical sense – if you had many failures, you would have many successes, just based on the premise [of the multiple universe connections]. And then it obviously grew from there.

DS: And in the same way, logically speaking, the project became, “Can we make her love the universe she’s in, and the version of herself she is, at the end of this movie?” It turned out to be a fun challenge – choose the worst Evelyn, but in the end she must love who she is. I think it’s something many of us think about at times when we regret, or think about what if. So in many ways, the whole movie is there. There it is. It’s a multiverse movie designed to make you appreciate the one universe you’re in.

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