Everything Everywhere: In Which I Encounter My Multiverse Selves

A Righteousness That Comes From Outside (The Other-Verse)

Easter weekend went down as expected. A little coloring of slightly soft-boiled eggs. A variety of egg bakes and cheesy hash browns at the Easter breakfast. “Jesus Christ Is Ris’n Today” and “Thine Is the Glory” at worship. Mary Magdalene comforted by the gardener at the tomb. Jesus himself once again proclaimed raised. Less expected was convincing my wife to see Everything Everywhere All at Once, a sci-fi/martial arts action movie. It’s passing grade on the Bechdel test helped.

In Everywhere Evelyn Wang can’t git ‘er done: taxes, organizing the family’s laundromat, resolving her relationship with her daughter Joy, fulfilling her father’s expectations, tending to her dying marriage to Waymond. She’s exhausted from keeping all the plates spinning (or, in this case, the dryers tumbling). She’s fairly certain that, if you delved deep into her persona, there’d be no there there. She’s no one you’d single out as significant.

Played by Michelle Yeoh, Evelyn is the protagonist of the new film by Daniels (the collective name used by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, who previously made Swiss Army Man with Daniel Radcliffe as a farting corpse). When she and her husband ride the elevator to their scheduled meeting with Dierdre, their dour IRS auditor, Waymond momentarily changes personality and gives her a list of odd tasks he says she’ll need to tackle to enter into the multiverse and gain the skills needed to defeat Jobu Tupaki, the evil being bent on destroying all that is.

In my current persona in the multiverse, where I’m just a cinephile raised on the Great Plains, I can’t stop thinking about Everything. I recognize it as part family drama and part sci-fi metaverse adventure with a dash of ethics and philosophy of human nature thrown in for good measure. More than that, starting slow but quickly gaining momentum, it’s a whiplash joyride of images and editing, cleverness and heart. Where else can a movie ticket get you people with hotdogs for fingers and googly eyes as a key to everything everywhere? I’m happy with the fun and the funny, at least in this part of the multiverse.

In another dimension of the multiverse, where I teach ethics and vocation, I’m stuck on Evelyn’s moral dilemma. Should she accept the calling to greatness or should she be satisfied with enough? C.S. Lewis, in The Problem of Pain, wrote about the part we play in the cosmic battle between good and evil:

A merciful man aims at his neighbor’s good and so does “God’s will,” consciously co-operating with “the simple good.” A cruel man oppresses his neighbor, and so does simple evil. But in doing such evil, he is used by God, without his own knowledge or consent, to produce the complex good — so that the first man serves God as a son, and the second as a tool. For you will certainly carry out God’s purpose, however you act, but it makes a difference to you whether you serve like Judas or like John.

Assuming that God is unchangeable across the multiverse, Evelyn would produce complex good even if she’s the worst possible version of herself. Pinkie-of-Death Evelyn is just as much the vessel for God’s work as is Can’t-Keep-Receipts-Straight Evelyn. But it matters to her in the here and now that she heeds the call to battle evil.

In still another dimension of the multiverse, where I’ve been reading Martin Luther’s commentary on Romans, I begin to question how useful the idea of goodness for Evelyn and the multiverse even is. Luther argued that our virtue is a dangerous thing. The church should “teach that our righteousness and wisdom are nothing and that therefore we should not exalt them in our boasting or celebrate them in a false imagination” (Luther’s Works 25:136). Thus, it’s better for Evelyn to revel in her nothingness rather than in her new-found power.

Luther said God wants to redeem us not through our internal abilities, which lead to pride, but by something apart from us: “We must be taught a righteousness that comes completely from the outside and is foreign. Our righteousness that is born in us must first be plucked up.” On that count Evelyn occupies a sweet spot. The world has so worn her down that she has no righteousness. It’s her husband Waymond from the other-verse who gives her the unexpected outside goodness with the whispered disclosure of an identity she didn’t create.

In a final multiverse dimension, I can only see Everything Everywhere through the lens of Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation where he dismantles the assumption of free will and shreds theologians of glory who assume God’s regard for us can be sussed out through the evidence of successful laundromats, marriages that work, and a victorious battle against Jobu Tupaki. God doesn’t operate according to the world’s law which functions according to attraction, that is, by Evelyn’s ability to bring countervailing forces to heel with skill, cleverness, or a convincing argument.

The problem of evil won’t be overcome by more law, more power, or more Kung-fu moves with a fanny pack. God works in a different way, vie the freedom of creation. God’s love does find what’s attractive to it but creates what is loved and is, thus, attractive. It’s what Robert Capon called left-handed power. What’s needed is a preacher who speaks in a way that the new is created. This kind of preacher doesn’t convince anyone of anything, but instead bestows and declares the hearer as beloved.

Evelyn has an inkling of such a preacher in Waymond’s goofy habit of sticking googly eyes everywhere you look. Early on, she rips them off in annoyance, but in the end, she regards them as the antidote to evil. Googly eyes are a symbol of Waymond’s constant response to Evelyn’s nothingness: his very being fills her and is what empowers her service to the multiverse. Evil’s defeat comes with a googly eye on Evelyn’s forehead as a ninja bindi. Or in Christian terms, as being marked in baptism with the sign of the cross forever.

Back in my own dimension, Everything Everywhere draws me out of my cynicism at algorithmic Hollywood productions. It’s an apt title; directors Daniels have let their intelligence and imagination explode. You can take a cue from the movie: Christ’s love comes after you with relentlessness in everything, everywhere, all at once.

COMMENTS


One response to “Everything Everywhere: In Which I Encounter My Multiverse Selves”

  1. Henry Fordyce says:

    I *just* got out of the theater. What a trip! Thanks for your piece here! Can I share some thoughts here about that and the film?

    “Pinkie-of-Death Evelyn is just as much the vessel for God’s work as is Can’t-Keep-Receipts-Straight Evelyn.” You write about her good works. It’s interesting to me that she brings herself up from nothing to god-level on mostly her own effort.

    I liked the power of Waymund’s love. Evelyn’s motivation to save the world because she has to save her daughter evaporates when confronted with the apparent meaninglessness of life. Her heart only melts when she realizes she is loved freely and sees the beauty of kindness. I also am paralyzed by the darkness when I forget I am loved.

    For Jobu, infinite knowledge and power only expose meaninglessness that leads to despair. God is amazing! He has infinite knowledge and power, sees all the real-world brokenness, feels it, but does not despair. He still loves!

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