There’s no simple way to sum up the Oscar-winning Everything Everywhere All At Once.
It begins with the premise that a Chinese American immigrant named Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) must enter the multiverse to stop an alternate version of her daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu), from annihilating their world. Evelyn’s husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), is along for the ride. (At the Oscars, Yeoh won Best Actress and Quan won Best Supporting Actor. The film also took home Best Picture, Best Film Editing, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay Oscars.)
EEAAO is two hours of chaos punctuated by absurdist humor and nonstop action sequences, followed by a string of emotional revelations about Evelyn, Joy, Waymond, and the human condition. Without much warning, the film becomes a depiction of how someone — Joy — can be brought back from the edge of their existence. Suddenly, the viewer comes face-to-face with a version of their own emotional pain as the movie’s fantastical scenes give way to something far more relatable: an unexpected but masterful story about mental health.
There’s Joy’s depression, a powerful current beneath her casual facade. It’s the interminable heartbreak Evelyn feels in the long wake of her father’s rejection. The grueling demands of running a small business as an immigrant woman have overrun Evelyn’s life — and her ability to marvel at everyday beauty. Though Waymond may be preternaturally kind, he’s not immune to the excruciating loneliness of feeling that the fissure in his marriage is beyond repair. In the Alphaverse, Joy’s alternate persona Jobu wonders if there’s a way to end all the pain; the nihilism that afflicts her is simply too much to bear.
Rather than utter the words hopelessness and suicide, Jobu creates an “Everything Bagel,” which is quite literally a bagel with every experience and emotion. When considered all at once, the totality of human experience renders life meaningless. The void at the center of that bagel is Jobu’s answer to suffering.
“The bagel is where we finally find peace,” Jobu tells Evelyn toward the film’s climax. In Evelyn’s universe, a parallel conversation with her daughter includes Joy confessing: “I’m tired. I don’t want to hurt anymore.”
Lorissa Carin, a 22-year-old Filipina American at San Francisco State University, sat in awe as she watched EEAAO, which she did more than once. Carin, who’s experienced depression and suicidal thoughts, and whose mother is an immigrant from the Philippines, saw striking glimpses of her own life and struggles in the film. In fact, there are almost too many moments like that to count.
In Joy and Evelyn’s strained relationship, Carin recognized her own longing to connect with her mother in ways made difficult by the constraints of language, culture, and generational differences.
Though Jobu is first positioned as the movie’s Big Bad because her nihilism threatens human existence, Evelyn comes to realize that she must be embraced, not destroyed. Carin found this moving as someone who has worried that her suicidal feelings were “monstrous.”
When Jobu and Evelyn find themselves transformed into rocks and perched on a cliff’s edge, in a universe where humanity doesn’t exist, Carin recognized the stillness and nonjudgmental connection she craves in moments of sorrow, uncertainty, and depression.
In an Asian American group telehealth therapy session that Carin attended, she and the other members talked at length about the scene in which Jobu is drifting into the Everything Bagel’s void but Evelyn reaches out to stop her disintegration. They each imagined whose hand might be on their shoulder in a moment of crisis.
“It was very healing to really to visualize that scene in my life, because it depicts suicide, it depicts nihilism, but it also depicts connection and wanting connection,” says Carin, who is writing her senior thesis about suicide prevention amongst Filipino American youth in the wake of the pandemic.
The filmmaker duo Daniels declined to speak to Mashable about the portrayal of depression and suicidal thinking in EEAAO, but the movie arguably makes its values about mental health clear. As Evelyn races to rescue Jobu, and by extension Joy, she recognizes how vital an authentic, loving connection is to her daughter’s mental health — and to her own well-being.
At first, Evelyn wants a crisp resolution. Evelyn confidently tells her father, visiting from China, that Joy has a girlfriend, perhaps thinking that finally revealing the truth will convince Joy that her mother sees her pain, and worth. But Joy refuses an easy reconciliation, forcing Evelyn to confront the complexity of their relationship. Yes, Evelyn may be disappointed by her daughter’s tattoo and the fact that she never calls, and yes, sometimes life feels absent of meaning or sense, but there’s a more important truth.
“I still want to be where with you,” says Evelyn. “I will always, always want to be here with you.”
After a few beats, Joy falls into a hug with her mother. In the alternate universe where Evelyn is trying to save Jobu from the bagel’s vortex, Jobu’s hand emerges from the darkness, and Evelyn grabs it to pull her from the void.
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Brett Wean, director of writing and entertainment outreach at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, says the movie contains important insights amidst the action and absurdity.
While it’d be a mistake to interpret the film prescriptively, Wean says the overarching message reflects what mental health professionals know to be true: Life can be taxing and overwhelming, and kindness and genuine connection can be a healing balm for emotional pain and isolation.
“It’s the story that life is messy and our connections with other people are what make us whole and give us balance, and ultimately that makes things OK, and that’s where the true meaning of our lives comes from,” says Wean.
Wean says that reaching out to a loved one for a caring, direct conversation about mental health or suicide(Opens in a new tab) may feel awkward or uncomfortable at first but can be all that it takes to connect them to help. At the same time, Wean says the film shouldn’t read as an indictment of those who’ve lost a loved one to suicide. While it’s helpful to know the risk factors and warning signs(Opens in a new tab), Wean says that suicide loss survivors should never blame themselves if they miss those indicators, if their loved one didn’t exhibit them, or if they were unable to connect with the person who struggled.
However, through the lens of Joy’s return from the brink, the film helps dispel the myth that once someone starts feeling suicidal, they can’t heal or recover from those emotions.
“The big idea here is that suicide is never a matter of fate, or predetermined, or someone’s destiny,” says Wean.
Carin says Evelyn’s declaration that she’d still choose being with Joy even if she could be anywhere in the multiverse helped her solidify and embrace the idea of “being nowhere else but here.” Staying in the present moment, and not getting lost in the unrealistically high expectations of who she could become, has helped Carin diffuse the fatalism and nihilism that show up with her depression.
“The philosophy at the moment is to do things from love, which has been inspired by the communities and people around me who have shown me love,” says Carin.
UPDATE: Mar. 12, 2023, 8:32 p.m. PDT This story has been updated to reflect the Oscars awarded to “Everything Everywhere All At Once.”
If you’re feeling suicidal or experiencing a mental health crisis, please talk to somebody. You can reach the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988; the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860; or the Trevor Project at 866-488-7386. Text “START” to Crisis Text Line at 741-741. Contact the NAMI HelpLine at 1-800-950-NAMI, Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. ET, or email [email protected]. If you don’t like the phone, consider using the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline Chat at crisischat.org(Opens in a new tab). Here is a list of international resources(Opens in a new tab).