Everything Everywhere All At Once

Victoria O’Brien
Desert Island Dispatch

I’ve shared many things in the past several months while writing this column, and perhaps even overshared, but I’ve somehow overlooked the power of a comfort watch or read. Think about those movies or TV shows or books you like to rewatch and reread whenever times are hard — that’s a comfort watch or read. 

On Sunday night, I ended up watching one of mine for the first time in a while. It’s a movie called “Everything Everywhere All At Once.” It is weird, outlandish and funny, but it’s also so extraordinarily smart, and each time I watch it, I get something new out of it. It’s about an Asian-American family on the verge of losing their laundromat due to owing the IRS back taxes when, suddenly, an inter-dimensional rift opens and the mother is tasked with saving the multiverse and our world from a mysterious figure, who is also an alternate version of her daughter. Sounds bonkers, right?

I remember the first time I watched it, I zeroed in on a point in the middle third act when one of the characters defends his ideals, saying his decision to be good and kind and care for others isn’t a weakness, but a strength. It was a message that I honestly can’t remember seeing in most of the media I’ve consumed as an adult. It sometimes feels like ‘kindness is a strength’ is a message we only want to teach to our children so that, later on, they can forget. This time, I ended up thinking more about the film’s philosophical bend — it pits nihilism against existentialism against absurdism — in no small part because of the current news cycle. Nihilism, for the uninitiated, says nothing matters and this is all pointless. Existentialism says yes, but we can make it matter. Absurdism, meanwhile, says we should not attempt to make things matter, but use our very existence as an act of defiance.

Over the years, I’ve grown discerning about what news I’ll watch and how much, what news I’ll read and how much. I created my healthy limit because I disagree with many of the decisions driving the news sources the vast majority of people get their information from and because I vehemently reject the notion that journalism should be anything other than objective. The smoke and mirrors ruses being played and arguments being made are not in good faith, but they work. The end result is exhausting and divisive. These tactics punt actual issues impacting common people down the line or deploy a Boogeyman-of-the-Week to scapegoat when the real answer to our problems is less clear-cut.

I’ve said before that I don’t want to write about politics, but after the past week, I have to be honest: I am mad. Insofar as the age and frailty conversation goes, I find little meaningful difference between a 78- and 81-year-old, but will say that, as a 30-year-old woman, I don’t feel my generation is well-represented or listened to by anyone in government. More pointedly, I don’t see how anyone on either side can look at the headlines and think this bodes well or that we look like global leaders. What an absolute farce this has become.

I am mad that multiple administrations have failed to safeguard our democracy. I am mad that our government has become more and more inequitable and no one will step in. I am mad that the ‘American Dream’ I was raised on has been hollowed out into a barren husk because there are too many people who are afraid to let go, move on, and surrender to the natural order. I am mad that we have officials who refuse to serve the people who elected them, preferring to think only of the rich man’s wants and needs. I am mad that hubris and intellectual rigor have railroaded our society.  I am mad that I have to vote for one of two men who do not represent me, or my ideals, or my vision for the future. I am mad that one side is satisfied with the neoliberal status quo while the other is chomping at the bit for an oligarchy in which only the rich will thrive. I am mad that, collectively, we’re so self-absorbed and so busy trying to one up each other that we have completely, totally and irrevocably lost the plot, and are unwilling to submit to reality. I am mad that the dog and pony show our national politics and media have become leaves me feeling so bleak about our collective future that I question whether it’s even ethical to build a family of my own. 

I understand compromise. I understand life is unfair. But is this truly the best we have to offer or is this merely the best we’ve been trained to believe we deserve?

In the face of all of this, it’s very hard not to despair. We’ve made this country crueller and more inequitable, and for what, for whom? The rich man, who is the only one who ever truly wins this game. Why? Because he didn’t want us at his table.

And so yes, I am angry, but I have also had my fill of despair. Watching that movie again on Sunday night felt like being cold-cocked. It wasn’t a comfort, per se. It didn’t reassure me about the world or people. But if nothing else — if nothing matters, if we’re simply enduring — why should I despair when I can defy?

I don’t have a call to action, other than to encourage anyone who is also mad to do more than vote or sign frivolous online petitions that go nowhere. James Baldwin, in “Notes of a Native Son,” wrote something that I have thought of often since first reading it: I love America more than any other country in the world, and, for exactly this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually. I really do love this country and this people, and I do believe we have so much good, but it will take more than belief alone to fix what was done this week.