“Everything Everywhere All At Once” and The Arc of Emotional Maturity

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Firstly, apologies for the lack of posts of late! Momentum is really strange, it snowballs one way or the other. In this case, I had momentum writing blog posts, and then it went the other way very quickly. 

Anyway, I don’t have a ton of time to write but want to get back in the habit of writing so here I am. I wanted to write a little about the movie Everything Everywhere All At Once, an A24 movie that is currently playing in the theaters. I’ve seen it twice and to put it frankly: it rocked. I thought it was an unqualified masterpiece, definitely my favorite movie since Parasite, and maybe even Moonlight, which is probably my favorite movie of the last 10 years.  

As the title indicates, Everything has much to say about life, love, death, meaning, nihilism, and most importantly, the necessity of keeping your receipts for a tax audit. But I wanted to focus mostly on Michelle Yeoh’s main character, Evelyn, and her evolution. (Mild spoilers ahead). 

I’ve thought a lot about what means to be emotionally mature of late. Maybe it’s because of my dad’s death or maybe because I’m getting older, but I’ve been replaying past choices and actions more recently, not from a lens of shame or regret, but one of empathy. So many choices and actions were made out of hurt, and as a result, I hurt those around me. With that eye, I can look at myself as a dumb young man who was just lost and scared and so wanted to just feel connected and not judged. Additionally, I now know how little I actually cared for myself and gave myself so little empathy. To put it simply, I was lost. 

That has changed dramatically in the last 10 years for various reasons. Some of it was therapy, some of that was lots and lots of reading, some of that was meditation, and some of that was the people I surround myself with especially my wife, Melissa. All of that has helped me grow up into some sort of emotional maturity. To be clear, there is so much work left to be done, so much self-knowledge and reflection that needs to happen for the second half of my life. But there has been real growth in knowing who I am and why I am here. 

In Everything, Evelyn also goes through her own emotional evolution. In the beginning, we meet a woman stuck in old patterns and hurts, her defense not allowing her to see her husband and daughter with anything besides judgment and annoyance. For me, Evelyn’s early interactions with her daughter, Joy, were the toughest to watch because I recognized not only myself but also my parents’ half-hearted attempts at concern and love that often come out in a spew of negativity and criticism. By the end, however, Evelyn gets it. After a mind-bending, multiverse journey, the battle of the googly eyes beats out the everything bagel in her soul, and she chooses to accept and embody the life she lives every day with renewed thoughtfulness, love, and kindness toward her family. 

In a movie, of course, all this emotional growth has to be shown in a digestible chunk of two hours. It’s the problem with any narrative because a narrative by its very nature takes out the boring parts of life (This is what makes the film, Jeanne Dielman, so special but that’s another post altogether). Emotional growth, unfortunately, takes years and years and years… I’ve seen it in therapy with my patients and myself. It takes continually self-examination into our ways of being, understanding all the defenses built against vulnerability over the years and over time recognizing them, and trying to be a little bit different, just a little more open and compassionate to one’s life. It means working through our shame, our guilt, and our narcissism too, all the ways we puff up our egos in the pursuit of feeling strong or powerful. It means to stand in the midst of life, recognizing the vulnerabilities of our bodies, namely sickness, aging, and death, but also the vulnerabilities of our hearts, which have broken a thousand small times over the year. But it also means to try and love ourselves and others again with that broken heart. 

This is not a static or goal-orientated process. There is no finish line, or parade waiting at the end where you finally made it and someone congratulates you for finally making it. No, it’s a lifetime of work. It takes continual renewal. How you do it matters less. I personally find that meditation and Buddhism have been my most helpful tool with this. But it can happen in a whole host of other ways like therapy or self-help books. But we all need something to guide us. 

The problem is the number of false prophets out there who claim to have the answers. I speak of most purveyors of organized religions who are arrogant enough to tell you that they have all the answers to the universe if you just follow their creed and beliefs. But I speak to the hucksters out there too. I don’t want to name names but they exist out there to puff up their egos and their bank accounts. It’s rarer to find teachers out there who are the real thing. So be careful who you trust. I would say never worship the person. Wrestle with the ideas and take them for your own. No one has all the answers. There is no technique that will magically solve all your problems. You will always have a fragile, sensitive body that you will never escape. As the Buddhists like to say “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.”

Unfortunately, the truth is that a good majority of us never get to the growth work of maturity, stuck in various stages of adolescent development. I say this without judgment. Life is very hard and full of suffering. Many of us are just trying to survive day-to-day. And others are caught up in the values of our culture, the pursuit of wealth and bourgeois pleasures as an escape from life. Television, video games, drinking, drugs, and sex all are fun and wonderful things but are too often used as an escape from our feelings and pain. And most of us, many in my family included, still live a stilted existence because of it, never quite happy with the life we have but unsure what it means to change it. 

Evelyn’s growth in Everything mirrors everything I just wrote. It is the story of a woman who has grown into a bitter, unhappy person because her life hasn’t turned out the way she imagined. But something changes in the movie. She was once blind, but now she can see her life more clearly with a real acceptance of its beauty and meaning. That the movie does this with aplomb and earned sentimentality is to its credit. It’s a special one. I hope you see it soon. 

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