Here, all we get are a few specks of time where any of this actually makes sense, then I will cherish these few specks of time.

     — Evelyn Wang, Everything Everywhere All at Once

 

You think because I’m kind that it means I’m naïve, and maybe I am. It’s strategic and necessary. This is how I fight.

— Waymond Wang, Everything Everywhere All at Once

 

He has placed eternity in our hearts

        — Ecclesiastes 9:1

 

The poet only desires an expansion, a world to stretch himself in. The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.

— G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

A Modern Film History of the Multiverse

While the concept of the multiverse is thoroughly grounded in the realization that our decisions have consequences (as found in most sci-fi series, the courageous derring-do of the Star Trek Enterprise’s James T. Kirk comes to mind), it exhibits many features of the detective mystery novel. Unraveling a chain of decisions or events which have led to one’s current situation often feels like solving a murder mystery, since poor decisions can lead to bad results just as following the false lead of a red herring can stymie an investigation; for either genre, finding the best (or only) solution is often a matter of life or death. These parallels can be easily seen in such popular stories as DC Comics’ The Flash in which crime scene investigator Barry Allen uses his lightning speed to track down villains from the future (such as versions of his boss Harrison Wells) and prevent crimes in the past (like the murder of his mother), or simply to prevent chaos from spreading to Earth 838 and all branches of the multiverse.[1]

Stories in the multiverse often further add a twenty-first century multiculturalism flavor to their mysteries. Marvel Comics’ Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse casts biracial thirteen-year-old Miles Morales (African-American father, Puerto Rican mother) as the successor to the Caucasian Peter Parker, who dies while attempting to disable a collider built to access parallel universes to retrieve a foe’s wife and son whose death he blames on Spiderman.[2] Everything Everywhere All at Once, a surprise hit film of 2022, extends Spiderverse’s multiculturalism in exploring the Asian-American experience, as it tells the story of the Wang family, Chinese immigrants living in New York City, and their struggle to reconcile values both Chinese and American, traditional and contemporary, in the “generational trauma slam dunk film [of] this season.”[3] Everywhere captured imaginations globally, grossing over $100 million, thus making it the highest grossing film yet for the independent A24 entertainment company, and receiving critical acclaim worldwide.[4]

Yet despite its similarity to the mystery or stories of other genres, the multiverse genre uniquely delivers meaning as it highlights the consequences of our choices. Everything fits this bill, and then some, as it has been described as “messy and glorious” and “an exuberant swirl of genre anarchy” by The New York Times, interweaving themes of absurdism, the Asian-American experience, fantasy, dark comedy, science fiction, and martial arts into an arguably overstuffed 140 minutes.[5] Directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (“the Daniels”) had been plotting their multiverse film since 2010 and began its writing in 2016, so were understandably disheartened when Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse beat them to the box office in 2018. With the series of connected but parallel universes of Everything, they hoped to not just indulge their appetites for quirky sci-fi and multiple genres, but to explore how to bring meaning to the chaos of an infinite universe. They feared making

a multiverse movie that went so far into the idea of an infinite number of universes that it went to the conclusion of, well, nothing matters . . . [and] wondered “Can we as filmmakers, pull them back, and give them a hug?” [6]

So committed were Kwan and Scheinert to this goal that while producing Everything they turned down Marvel’s offer to direct Loki, another multiverse-spanning story. Instead, in Everything, they produced a film that shows that love and understanding are essential so that all generations can, as Rodney King once asked, “all just get along.”

Everything Everywhere All at Once

Everything might well have otherwise been titled Finding Joy, as Joy, the angsty late teens or 20s-something daughter of Evelyn and Waymond Wang and granddaughter of the traditionalist Gong Gong, is the central character, and is in constant pursuit of finding a place for her identity. Her story still resembles a crime mystery, as she spans the multiverse to solve the riddle of her angst, then reveals not so much a killer, but a clue to overcoming it, in love. Joy struggles in establishing her identity as it lies between the poles of her mother Evelyn who wearily but dutifully shoulders many of the responsibilities in running the family laundromat, and of her father Waymond who is more carefree and joyous. Evelyn follows close behind Joy in her own journey for identity and meaning, as she questions how she has exchanged opportunities to be good at something (which would have pleased her father) for family and her resultant state of being good at nothing in particular. Everywhere thus plays like a 21st century feminine and Chinese version of Russian author Ivan Turgenev’s 1862 novel Fathers and Sons, another tale of finding meaning and love when nihilism confronts tradition.

Portraying the Asian-American experience is another important theme of Everything. The pressure to achieve that both Joy and Evelyn feel is common among immigrants seeking to build their future in a new country from scratch; as Alexander Hamilton boasts in the musical production Hamilton: “Immigrants: we get the job done!”[7] From Confucius’s moralizing about honesty and correct behavior to Montesquieu, the French writer in the eighteenth century who observed the effects of a vast Chinese population continually facing the threat of subsistence-level harvests, the Chinese have been well-known for their arduous work ethic.[8]

Into the Wang family drama enters the multiverse. During an audit by the IRS, an alternative reality Waymond (from the Alphaverse) explains to Evelyn that “every tiny decision creates another branch in the universe,” and that a version of herself from another dimension has developed the ability to jump between worlds by performing random acts to change one’s timeline.[9] Waymond and Evelyn quickly learn to rely on this ability to avoid attacks from the interdimensional Jobu Tupaki, Joy from the alternate Alphaverse who was pushed too hard by her mother, the Alpha Evelyn, so that her mind splintered and gave her the ability to experience all universes at once. Like Neo from The Matrix series, Jobu’s powerful mind allows her to manipulate matter and threatens the existence of not just the Alphaverse but the entire multiverse.

The real threat to the multiverse is not Jobu’s powers, but her angst. She has created a giant “everything bagel,” onto which she put “everything” from “all my hopes and dreams, old report cards, every breed of dog . . . sesame, poppyseed, salt;” the bagel has the powers of a black hole and can destroy the entire multiverse.[10] This bready concoction of not just Joy’s totality but the confusion of the chaotic universe reveals to Joy the truth that “nothing matters,” since “if nothing matters, then all the pain and guilt you feel from making nothing of your life, goes away.”[11] To Joy’s declaration of nihilism, Evelyn clings to the hope that some things do matter, even though her family is fracturing at all points, as Waymond has served her divorce papers, and Joy has a romantic girlfriend, a relationship that Evelyn hides from her own father, Gong Gong, for fear of further condemnation from him. The power of the bagel turns out to not be intended for destruction, however, but instead to search for “someone who could see what I see, feel what I feel:” it was Joy searching for the empathy of her mother.[12]

Evelyn manages to save the multiverse by salvaging her relationships with Joy and Waymond. Evelyn’s own mind splits, allowing her to gain powers to handle Jobu by visiting alternate versions of herself in other universes to gain their skills (a Kung Fu master, an Opera singer, a chef to name a few). Even more significantly, Evelyn learns from her trips through alternate realities to better love Waymond and Joy. She finds that Waymond is a truly kind man who made his own sacrifices, and even as a successful executive in an alternate reality would have been happy just doing laundry and taxes with her in a humbler existence. She and Joy together learn that even as just rocks in a lifeless reality, they can relax and enjoy that they are both merely “small, stupid humans” in a vast, non-earth-centric universe, though it is back on earth that they feel trapped in their own world.[13] Joy then reveals the true nihilistic intent of her bagel: to destroy her angst by destroying (only) herself, though she finds joy in the company of her now empathetic mother. In the final battle, Evelyn learns to fight, like Waymond, with kindness and joy, treating even her foes like family, and turning bullets into googly eyes (a trick that not even Neo thought to do).

Everything has its truly comic moments laced with depth and breadth that challenges the assumptions of our less quirky universe. For instance, Evelyn declares that “there is always something to love, [since] even in a stupid, stupid universe where we have hot dogs for fingers, we get very good with our feet” while Bach’s Claire de Lune is softly played on the piano by the toes of Dierdre, her female lover who is also the IRS auditor in her home universe.[14] Alternate sexuality is also a common theme throughout Everywhere: Evelyn relents to accepting Joy’s girlfriend relationship with Becky though she shields it from her own father for fear of his rejection, and Evelyn’s own path to one alternate reality requires her to declare her love to Diedre the IRS agent. Further, devices employed for slapstick comic effect are used to suggest female angst with male sexuality, buttressing the sense of angst owing to a loveless and threatening universe. If Joy or Evelyn are considered detectives, hot on the case of their missing identities, the perpetrator they identify is the lack of love, and the crime is then solved by invoking more love, more love and understanding between spouses, generations and cultures.

Multiverse Sexuality: Red Herrings and True Love

In Everything’s multiverse, romantic love, the most intense and meaningful of the loves, crosses traditional boundaries as it veers into same-sex attraction, between Joy and Becky, as well as, in one alternate reality, between Evelyn and Dierdre. Does this alternative sexuality answer the riddle of finding meaning in the chaotic and senseless multiverse, or is it a red herring, distracting from a better solution? To answer this, we briefly consider the differences between friendship and romance, and the way in which sexuality can best serve.

Sexuality, whether traditional heterosexuality or alternative variants, is often a hot-button topic for Christians, though it should not be, C.S. Lewis explains,

Christianity has glorified marriage more than any other religion [so that] if
anyone says that sex, in itself, is bad, Christianity contradicts him at once.[15]

Granted, Christian academics such as Carl Trueman do argue that the sexual revolution of the 1960s has not only paved the way for the current preoccupation of alternate sexuality, but derives from societal trends as far back as the eighteenth century the Romanticism of Rousseau, who espoused an expressive individualism rather looking to religion for moral boundaries.[16] In Everything, sexuality provides one of the starkest contrasts between Joy’s generation and that of her mother Evelyn, and her father Gong Gong. Evelyn is reluctantly accepting of Joy having a romantic girlfriend Becky, but fears to reveal the relationship to her traditionalist father Gong Gong. Given that Joy’s age places her within Gen Z (typically today’s teens and those in their twenties, often dating from 1995, the release year of the world’s first commercial web browser), which has the highest rate among age groups of claiming alternate sexual preferences, the theme of alternate sexuality is no surprise.[17] [18] Evelyn’s admission that Becky is a gift to Joy of “someone kind, patient, and forgiving, to make up for all that she lacks,” just as her husband Waymond is to her, however, stretches the parallel.[19] Even though Joy and Evelyn are admittedly both “stubborn, aimless, and a mess” and in need of compassion, Waymond is more to Evelyn than Becky can ever be to Joy, as he is both her biological and gender complement, characteristics that Becky, no matter how faithful or loving a companion, can never be.[20] It is in more than a generational sense that Evelyn reprimands Joy to stop calling her “Evelyn” and use “Mother” instead, as it evokes the rich web of family relationships made possible only by the union of one man and one woman, in the physical sense which thus makes possible all other deeper, gender-based senses.

Even among the Christian community there is an ongoing debate over alternate sexuality, but we leave the wrangling over scriptural mandate or allowance to the reader for further investigation.[21] Instead, we examine here the unique benefits made possible by heterosexuality, a consideration often lost in the often heated discussions. There is a richness in sexual diversity — the union between opposite sexes, not today’s version of alternate sexual relationships between members of the same sex — which same sex relations can not quite capture. Same sex friendships are indeed valuable, as attested or implied by various renowned thinkers:

For without friends no one would choose to live though he had all other goods.[22]

To the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world, in comparison, ignores it.[23]

On three great bonds of love do all cultures depend: the love between man and woman in marriage; the love between a mother and her child; and the camaraderie among men, a bond that used to be strong enough to move mountains.[24]

Esolen further depicts the significance and explains the stakes of heterosexuality. Both its grace and utility are illustrated by the Norman Rockwell drawing “First Love,” from the cover of the Saturday Evening Post in 1926. A little boy and girl are shown from behind sitting on a park bench, where it is apparent that he has gone out of his way (laying down his fishing pole and gear) to gift her with a handful of daisies, affirming and complimenting his notice of her prettiness, of which Esolen observes that “everything about that scene is healthy and normal and right.”[25]

The very division of labor, made necessary by the facts of life, taking best advantage of man’s nature and body and the woman’s nature and body, makes man and woman dependent upon one another, and thus gives ample reason for gratitude . . . each then becomes a gift for the other; and the gift is inseparable from the difference in sexual being. [26]

Otherwise, unless we move to unite the sexes, he continues, “the culture cannot survive. The women split away to protect their persons and their relatively few children, and grow harried and cynical; the unattached males pass the dull hours in frivolity or destruction.”[27]

Rachel Gilson, a lesbian student at Yale who came to faith and reevaluated her sexuality, offers another valuable voice in the discussion. As she studied the Bible with a friend after her conversion to faith in Christ, she came to learn that trust in God regarding sexuality paid off, as the positive aspects of sexuality inundate scripture. Through sexuality, Gilson explains, God tells us of his prizing of diversity, priority of new life, and love for us. Diversity is found in the creation account, as God created both male and female in His image, so that marriage is an act of forming unity out of diversity, and not just the pattern of diversity but “the ongoing source of it.”[28] Gilson cites a Gallup study which found that even in business settings, teams composed of both men and women performed better than single-sex groups.[29] Same-sex friendships are still valuable, but the sexual difference at the heart of marriage and the family show God’s design for diversity. Sexuality that naturally produces families supports God’s sanction for procreation of new life, and God dignifies the roles of both mother and father by comparing himself to each.[30]

But marriage illustrates a deeper truth, Gilson found, namely to display the gospel of God’s love to the world. God is shown in both Old Testament and New to play the role of husband, but the unity of opposites found in marriage shows a mystery and a miracle that powerfully communicates about God.[31] The values held by the church, the family of God, are a macrocosm of those first introduced in marriage: pleasure in joyful living, faithful partnering, and bringing life into the world. Serving the spouse of the opposite sex according to different needs and abilities produces a wholeness in its diversity instead of a fellowship of similars, and in romance results in worship rather than in a form of self-idolatry, Gilson attests.[32] Same-sex romance, however, lacks the diversity and life-producing benefits inherent in heterosexual marriage, and falls short of God’s declaration in Proverbs that “the way of a man with a woman” is one of the great mysteries of creation.[33]

Christian marriage and sexuality author Julie Slattery echoes Gilson and others on the rich and profound significance of the heterosexual marriage union. Slattery claims that “sexuality was created to be divine metaphor, teaching us about God’s covenant love” so that “our sexuality should actually be drawing us into greater intimacy with God!”[34] She further notes that the difficulties of the heterosexual union — man and women are indeed created quite differently — that the purpose just may be to encourage us to sacrificially reach out of our comfort zone to serve each other, and in that way each partner, husband and wife, may exhibit (best enabled by divine love and power) the sacrificial act of love of God for us, as shown at the cross.[35]

Slattery and others echo the profound mystery found entwined into heterosexual marriage like an elaborate Celtic knot. C.S. Lewis deftly portrays the significance in his Space Trilogy, of which the opening book, Out of the Silent Planet, is set on a rocky, craggy Mars in contrast to the fertile swarm of islands gently undulating on the oceans of Venus in Perelandra; as Lewis described it, “on Mars, the very forests are made of stone; in Venus the lands swim.”[36] Just as the finale, That Hideous Strength, opens back on Earth (Earth-1, for Flash fans) with the word “Matrimony,” so does the Director of the society of St. Anne’s (the harmonious, heavenly rival of the diabolical N.I.C.E. of Belbury) advise Jane, whose marriage to Mark Studdock is crucial to the central drama:

The male you could have escaped for it exists only on the biological level. But the masculine none of us can escape. What is above and beyond all things is so masculine that we are all feminine in relation to it. You had better agree with your adversary quickly.[37]

Jane thus asks “Then I had better become a Christian?” to which the Director replies “It looks like it;” the spiritual significance is further emphasized when the masculine Divine is shown to possess “strong, skillful hands thrust down to make, and mend, perhaps even to destroy.”[38] This relation is, mysteriously enough, not a one-way street: just as there is both equality and hierarchy within the Trinity (Jesus declared both that “my Father is greater than I” and “I and my Father are one”), so does Lewis declare that

Equality is not the deepest thing . . . no one ever told you that obedience — humility — is an erotic necessity . . . [although] but you see that obedience and rule are more a dance than a drill, specially between man and woman where the roles are always changing.[39] [40]

Sexuality is a mystery to be unraveled, lurking at the very heart of life, as scripture declares “the way of a man with a maid” as full of wonder and beyond understanding.[41] Everything understands that our sexuality is a profound piece of the human puzzle, but it confuses the enormous benefits of same sex friendship with the special meaning and significance of romantic love. It offers a red herring of alternative sexuality where it needs to distinguish between the vital role of same-sex friendships and the special relationship of romantic love between the sexes. While friendship is important to finding meaning in a chaotic universe, romantic love is vital and life-giving, as complementary sexes serve each other according to their unique gifts, ultimately creating life and fully nourishing it, while embodying the divine drama; the red herring of same-sex romance instead merely mashes together two similar, and infertile, halves.

Philosophy and the Multiverse

The idea of the multiverse, a set of parallel realities created by alternate life-choices, resonates in today’s multicultural world, but ultimately reduces to the exercise of finding meaning amidst chaos. It thereby resembles the detective mystery in its sorting through theories of various hues to find one stable and explanatory reality. The multiverse has its modern origins in the work of philosopher David Lewis, who argued for both the logical and actual possibility of the existence of alternative universes, generated by our individual life choices, in such works as On the Plurality of Worlds in 1986. Lewis’s venture into possible worlds logic was inspired at least in part by the 17th century mathematician and philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, who argued that God’s granting to us the free will to choose between good and evil made this world the best possible of all worlds that God could have created. But its contemporary symbolic appeal lies in the multicultural agnosticism of the twenty-first century, building on cosmopolitan worldviews found nearly everywhere (if not all at once) such as political scientist Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations (1993), business writer Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat (2006), and Yuval Noah Harari’s 21 Lessons for the 21st Century (2019). The multiverse’s functional appeal, however, is more personal than global, as it allows characters to revisit decisions and pathways not taken to better themselves and their plights. Such a motif is found in superhero series such as The Flash or Spiderman: Out of the Spiderverse. In Everything Everywhere All at Once, the life and decisions of Evelyn Quan Wang are the focal point, as she struggles to keep her laundromat, three generations of family, and the multiverse itself from spiraling out of control by revisiting her life decisions through trips to alternate worlds.

The chaotic swarm of multiverses buzzing about in Everything Everywhere All at Once does lead quickly to the sense that the world is simply absurd and potentially utterly meaningless. As Waymond explains to his wife Evelyn, “every tiny decision creates another branch in the universe,” so that such random acts as choosing to wear shoes on the wrong feet or inflicting paper cuts on oneself cause a jump to an alternative universe, leading one reviewer to declare the film “a maximal take on the absurd.”[42] [43] The absurdist genre is not new, however, as it goes back at least as far as existential philosopher Jean Paul Sartre’s search to somehow find meaning and a basis for ethics in an age of disillusionment and continuing loss of religious faith following World War II. It includes Sartre’s literary and philosophical colleague Albert Camus, whose cycle of works displayed the absurd (The Stranger, 1942), rebellion against the absurd (The Plague, 1947; The Rebel, 1951), and love as a solution to the absurd (The First Man, unfinished at his death in 1960 but published in 1994). It goes beyond to Franz Kafka’s novels depicting the absurdity of a humdrum bourgeois existence in the early but modern twentieth century. The sense he found of existential angst alongside dread and alienation, infesting daily life, inspired Kafka to write novels in which the writer awakes to find he has been transformed into an insect (The Metamorphosis, 1912), the writer is arrested on charges that are never explained to him (The Trial, 1914), or the writer seeking futilely for a human face within a mysterious, aloof bureaucracy (The Castle, 1922). Kafka’s sense of the absurd can be found in the signature poem of Nobel Prize-winning poet T.S. Eliot (“The Waste Land,” 1922), in which survivors from a spiritually deflated, post-WW1 Europe wander aimlessly over London Bridge, evoking images from Dante nearly a millennium earlier of a long line of the lost in hell.[44]

Such philosophers of the absurd faced the same conundrum as the directors of Everything, namely, to escape from total loss of meaning and somehow instead find love. Sartre’s solution was as explicitly stated as any, though he argued from a position of unwavering atheism. For Sartre, man is alone in the absurd universe, and must make his own rules, and thus his own meaning, as he stated,

Dostoevsky said ‘If God didn’t exist, everything would be possible.’ That is the very starting point of existentialism. Indeed, everything is permissible if God does not exist, and as a result man is forlorn, because neither within him nor without does he find anything to cling to . . . we find no values or commands to turn to which legitimize our conduct . . . we are alone, with no excuses . . . man is condemned to be free.”[45]

The only possible basis Sartre can find to guide our behavior is empathy (“intersubjectivity”), as he explained that “one discovers . . . not only himself, but others as well.”[46] Although Sartre allows that we can choose how we act, we can only do so blindly, guided by no sense of good or evil or even of human nature. Sartre thus declared that, without God, “man [alone] . . . appears on the scene, and, only afterwards, defines himself” so that “there is no human nature, since there is no God to conceive it.”[47] Sartre famously summarizes the point by claiming that our “existence precedes [our] essence,” that is, it is only the way that we choose to live (our existence) that defines who we are (our essence).[48] We thus parallel the multiverse, as both it and we are simply the product of our own choices.[49] Sartre and the multiverse thus come to resemble another atheist philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, who argued that since God is dead (and thus Christian society is absurd) we fill the void with our own values.[50] How love fits into the universe of Sartre and Nietzsche is unclear, though it can be better understood by looking to the father of modern existentialism, Soren Kierkegaard.

Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) began the modern existential preoccupation with absurdity, finding a remedy, as in Everywhere, only in love. Like Sartre, Camus, and others after him, Kierkegaard revolted against meaninglessness, which for Kierkegaard took the form of passive and shallow religious faith, such as in his native Denmark where all citizens were required to also be members of the Lutheran church. His early essay “Attack against Christendom” showed the breadth of his aim, though he sought to salvage a meaningful form of faith and of love, especially in his collection of essays on the practice of love, Works of Love. These writings are often overlooked in favor of other works for which he is more well-known, such as those that rebel against the absurd and thus inspired the existential tradition.

Kierkegaard found that natural loves, such as the love for friends, family, or even romance, however valuable, are wanting:

Christianity has thrust erotic love and friendship from the throne, the throne rooted in mood and inclination, preferential love, in order to establish spiritual love in its place, love to one’s neighbor . . . of which love not a trace is found in paganism.[51]

Such loves are tied to our temporal nature (“existence” as Sartre would say), and are just as mortal; even romantic love or even friendship celebrated by the poet “must have in it the anguish which is the riddle of his own life [and] must blossom and, alas, must perish,” Kierkegaard claims.[52] These loves perish of their own weight, as such “spontaneous love can reach the point of despair . . . loves with the power of despair — [when it] loves another person ‘more than himself, more than God.’”[53]

There is, however, a love which endures past the temporal by touching the eternal, and emanates from duty to the eternal divine. Just as a lake is fed from hidden springs, so does “man’s love mysteriously begin in God’s love” Kierkegaard explains, adding that “if there were no spring at the bottom, if God were not love, then there would be neither a little lake nor man’s love.”[54] Such a love “has undergone the transformation of the eternal by becoming duty [and thus] can never despair.”[55] Of such a true Christianity, Kierkegaard reminds, “let us not now or at any time, forget its primal character — namely, that it did not originate in any human heart.”[56] Kierkegaard’s solution to the multiverse thus differs profoundly from that of Sartre and Camus: while they find themselves alone in the universe and so choose to act from empathy to make it more humane, Kierkegaard finds his source of abiding love from an eternal universe. Everything Everywhere All at Once’s love appears to be born of the despair and loneliness wrought by an uncaring, chaotic world; Evelyn, Joy, Becky, Gong-Gong and “the Daniels” would do well to consider Kierkegaard’s solution to the mystery of apparent meaninglessness, finding an eternally enduring love based in God Himself.

For Sartre and Camus, human love can only arise as acts of our own will and substitute for the meaninglessness of a harsh and unfeeling cosmos. Kierkegaard shows how to reconnect with the source of meaning and life in the cosmos by drawing upon a spiritual love, its source in God, so that we may have the strength to love each other. C.S. Lewis declares the same in The Four Loves, noting first that

Even for their own sakes the loves must submit to be second things if they are to remain the things they want to be. In this yoke lies their true freedom; they are “taller when they bow.” For when God rules in a human heart, though He may sometimes have to remove certain of its native authorities altogether . . . and, by subjecting their authority to His, gives it for the first time a firm basis.”[57]

Lewis explains further:

God, as creator of nature, implants in us both Gift-loves and Need-loves. The Gift-loves are natural images of Himself . . . the Need-loves, so far as I have been able to see, have no resemblance to the Love which God is. . . . [but] God, admitted to the human heart, transforms not only Gift-love but Need-love; not only our Need-love of him, but our Need-love of one another.[58]

Just as did Kierkegaard, Lewis finds that truly capable love can only be found when God is the foundation, which allows us to more perfectly practice love with our neighbors.

Lewis has a further special relevance for Everything Everywhere All at Once: his model of an unchaotic, meaningful and ordered universe. As a Medieval scholar, Lewis felt profound appreciation for the ordered cosmos of the Medieval Christian. Lewis claimed that while even Ancients like Greek philosophers found some hints of intelligence in nature, the Medievals saw nature as “purposive . . . [and] in her God set the inexhaustible fountain of beauty” with even the law of gravity governing the planetary motions cast as “kindly enclyning” whereas “for the modern mind they became impersonal, scientific laws observed by independent celestial travelers.”[59] Just as revealing is how it is thought that Lewis would have even disliked the title Space Trilogy attached to his sci-fi series, as he dismissed the term “space” for its implication of a “dismal fancy of the black, cold vacuity, the utter deadness, which was to separate the worlds” as “a blasphemous libel for this empyrean ocean of radiance in which they swam.”[60] Owen Barfield, Lewis’s friend and intellectual mentor, highlighted the meaningless that erodes the modern world:

Amid all the menacing signs that surround us in the middle of this twentieth century, perhaps the one which fills thoughtful people with the greatest sense of foreboding is the growing sense of meaninglessness. It is this which underlies most of the other threats. How is it that the more able man becomes to manipulate the world to his advantage, the less he can perceive any meaning in it?[61]

Just as fitting an image with which to conclude the critique of Everything Everywhere All at Once is that of Sir John Davies, the Elizabethan poet and slightly younger contemporary of William Shakespeare. In his poem Orchestra, or a Poem of Dancing, Davies likens the dance of a suitor of Penelope in Ulysses’ absence in The Odyssey to that of the cosmos, a hierarchical, Medieval-style Great Chain of Being set into motion by a dance of divinely-orchestrated love.[62] Davies likens the cosmos to a dance among romantic partners, declaring,

This wondrous miracle doth Love devise
For dancing is love’s proper exercise.
[63]

Instead of a rationally-ordered but soulless and mechanistic universe that would soon follow as scientific knowledge would explode in later centuries, Davies posits a universe ordered by the very love with Everything seeks to find by which to console ourselves in an apparently unordered and wildly chaotic world, with such lines as

How was this goodly architecture wrought?
Or by what means were they together brought?
They err that say they did concur by chance;
Love made them meet in a well-ordered dance.
[64]

But thinks Reason, ere it came to pass
The first impulsive cause and mover was?
Who sees an Army all in rank advance
But deems a wise Commander is in place
Which leadeth on that brave, victorious dance?
Much more in Dancing’s Art, in Dancing’s grace,
Blindness it self may Reasons’ footprint trace:
For of Love’s maze it is the curious plot,
And of Man’s fellowship the true-love knot
[65]

In more modern times, C.S. Lewis portrayed the design and order in the cosmos in equally poetic and divinely preordained terms, as the eldila, the planetary spirits of Perelandra, show Ransom the nature of creation:

He thought he saw the Great Dance. It seemed to be woven out of the intertwining undulation of many cords or bands of light, leaping over and under one another and mutually embraced in arabesques and flower-like subtleties . . . wherever the ribbons or serpents of light intersected, minute corpuscles of momentary brightness: and he knew that somehow these particles were secular generalities of which history tells us — peoples, institutions, climates of opinion, civilisations, arts, sciences, and the like — ephemeral coruscations that piped their short song and vanished. The ribbons or cords themselves, in which millions of corpuscles lived and died, were things of some different kind . . . most of them were individual entities. . . . Some of the thinner and more delicate cords were beings that we call short-lived: flowers and insects, a fruit or a storm of rain . . . others were such things as we also think lasting: crystals, rivers, mountains or even stars.[66]

The stage is picturesquely set for Lewis’s solution of meaning amidst chaos:

Far above these in girth and luminosity and flashing with colors from beyond our spectrum were the kinds of personal beings, yet as different from one another in splendor as all of them from the previous class. But not all the cords were individuals: some were universal truths or universal qualities. It did not surprise him to find that these and the persons were both cords and both stood against the mere atoms of generality which lived and died in the clashing of their streams.[67]

An even more transcendent design, a purpose aligning individuals and the great truths, emerges, and draws them into the presence of very God:

The whole solid figure of these enamored and inter-animated circling was suddenly revealed as the mere superficies of a far vaster pattern in four dimensions, and that figure as the boundary of yet others in other worlds … [until it is all resolved into] a simplicity beyond all comprehension, ancient and as young as spring, illimitable, pellucid [translucently clear] [and] drew him with cords of infinite desire into its own stillness.[68]

Conclusion

Everything Everywhere All at Once excellently depicts the cosmic chaos we see everywhere as our raft drifts on global tides. We cast about for an anchor of meaning, much like a detective follows clues to solve his mystery, but can only find the love between our fellow shipmates as any possible mooring. However, visionaries like Kierkegaard and Sir John Davies from centuries prior, or Lewis in his futuristic exploration of a yet ancient and young cosmos, have shown an anchor on which both our ship and our loves can be firmly founded, the enduring and eternal God, Love Himself as Lewis often referred to this source. Such Love not only grounds us amidst wave upon wave of storms, but in fact animates all of nature and allows us to more fully, and less selfishly, love others. It serves as the commander of our souls, as a romantic dancing partner, and as the still, small, beckoning voice behind the spectacular artistry of the cosmos. Everything Everywhere All at Once can thus become not a soulless storm we must brave, but a divine orchestra to which we dance with meaning and purpose, and of course with those whom we love.


Citation Information

Seth Myers, “Mystery and Meaning in the Multiverse: Everything Everywhere All at Once,” An Unexpected Journal: Mystery 6, no. 1. (Spring 2023), 179-208.


Endnotes

[1] The Flash, produced by Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg, and Geoff Johns, starring Grant Gustin and Tom Cavanagh (Warner Bros. Television Distribution, 2014).

[2] Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse, directed by Bob Perischetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman (Columbia Pictures, 2018).

[3] Amy Nicholson, “‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ Review: A Maximal Take on the Absurd,” The Wall Street Journal, March 24, 2022, accessed December 23, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/everything-everywhere-all-at-once-jamie-lee-curtis-michelle-yeoh-daniel-kwan-daniel-scheinert-the-daniels-stephanie-hsu-ke-huy-quan-james-hong-11648158899.

[4] Rebecca Rubin, “‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ Is A24’s First Movie to Hit $100 Million Globally,” Variety, July 31, 2022, accessed December 23, 2022, https://variety.com/2022/film/box-office/everything-everywhere-all-at-once-box-office-milestone-1235325126/.

[5] A.O. Scott, “‘Everything, Everywhere All at Once’ Review: It’s Messy, and Glorious,” The New York Times, March 24, 2022, accessed December 23, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/24/movies/everything-everywhere-all-at-once-review.html.

[6] Alex Pasternak, “‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ is an antidote to the superhero movie,” Fast Company, April 7, 2022, accessed December 23, 2022, https://www.fastcompany.com/90738552/everything-everywhere-all-at-once-multiverse-internet.

[7] Lin-Manuel Miranda, “Yorktown,” in Hamilton (United States: Atlantic Recording, 2015).

[8] Montesquieu, “The Spirit of the Laws” in Great Books of the Western World vol. 35 (Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2003), Book VIII, Ch. 21, 58.

[9] Everything Everywhere All at Once, directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, featuring Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan, Jenny Slate and Jamie Lee Curtis (A24, 2022).

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 2017), 98.

[16] Carl Trueman, Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2022).

[17] Roberta Katz, Sarah Ogilvie, Jane Shaw and Linda Woodhead, Gen Z, Explained: The Art of Living in a Digital Age (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012), 1.

[18] Jeffrey M. Jones, “LGBT Identification Rises to 5.6% in Latest U.S. Estimate,” Gallup, Feb. 24, 2021, accessed December 23, 2022, https:// news.gallup.com/poll/329708/lgbt-identification-rises-latest-estimate.aspx.

[19] Everything (A24, 2022).

[20] Ibid.

[21] Matthew Vines, God and the Gay Christian (New York: Convergent Books, 2014) argues that scripture condemns only abusive, not loving, same-sex relations, though God and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew Vines, R. Albert Mohler Jr. ed. (Louisville: SBTS Press, 2014) disputes his claims. Austen Hartke, Transforming: The Bible & the Lives of Transgender Christians (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2018) argues for scriptural acceptance of transgenderism based on Bible’s teaching concerning acceptance of eunuchs, though others in the debate disagree with that as a mandate, including Rachel Gilson, Born Again This Way: Coming Out, Coming to Faith, and What Comes Next (North America: The Good Book Company, 2020) and in Rachel GIlson, “Embracing Our Transgender Neighbors on God’s Term,” in Christianity Today, June 22, 2018. https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2018/june-web-only/austen-hartke-transforming-transgender-neighbors.html. Others with stories similar to Gilson’s, balancing same-sex attractions with their beliefs that the Christian faith does not allow same-sex relations include Sam Allberry, Is God anti-gay? And other questions about homosexuality, the Bible and same-sex attraction (North America: The Good Book Company, 2019), Rosaria Butterfield, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: an english professor’s journey into christian faith (Pittsburgh: Crown & Covenant Publications, 2012), and Guy Hammond, “Finding Guy: How a gay man found Jesus and started a global movement,” Youtube, 2020, https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Ey8BEWOg6Vw, also at www.FindingGuy.com, and his ministry site www.Strengthinweakness.org. Academics writing on the issue include Nancy Pearcey, Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018) and Carl Trueman, Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2022).

[22] Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, ed. Lesley Brown and trans. David Ross (London: Oxford World Classics, 2009), 8.1.

[23] C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves (New York: Harcourt, 1960), 57.

[24] Anthony Esolen, Defending Marriage: Twelve Arguments for Sanity (Charlotte: Saint Benedict Press, 2014), 73.

[25] Ibid., 30.

[26] Ibid., 36.

[27] Ibid., 40.

[28] Rachel Gilson, Born Again This Way: Coming Out, Coming to Faith, and What Comes Next (North America: The Good Book Company, 2020), 32.

[29] Ibid.

[30] In Isaiah 66:13, God declares “As one whom a mother comforts, so I will comfort you;” Psalm 103:3 states, “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.”

[31] Isaiah 54:4-6, Ephesians 5:22-23.

[32] Gilson, Born Again This Way, 52.

[33] Proverbs 30:18-19.

[34] Julie Slattery, God, Sex, and Your Marriage (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2022), 12.

[35] Julie Slattery, Authentic Intimacy Conference (Cleveland, October 14-15, 2022).

[36] C.S. Lewis, Perelandra (New York: Scribner, 2003), 172.

[37] C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength (New York: Scribner, 2003), 313.

[38] Ibid., 313, 315.

[39] John 10:30, 14:28 (ESV).

[40] Lewis, That Hideous Strength, 145-146.

[41] Prov. 30:19 (ESV).

[42] Everywhere, 33.

[43] Amy Nicholson, “A Maximal Take,” March 24, 2022.

[44] Eliot states, “had not thought death had undone so many,” a line from Dante’s Inferno, in T.S. Eliot, ”The Waste Land” in The Complete Poems and Plays: 1909-1950 (New York: Harcourt, 1971), 39.

[45] Jean-Paul Sartre, “The Humanism of Existentialism” in Classics of Western Philosophy (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2006), 1196.

[46] Ibid., 1200.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Ibid.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra, trans. Clancy Martin (New York: Barnes & Noble Classics, 2005), originally written in 1883; other works of Nietzsche’s sound the same theme, as found in Friedrich Nietzsche, A Nietzsche Compendium: Good and Evil, On the Genealogy of Morals, Twilight of the Idols, The Antichrist, and Ecce Homo, edited by David Taffel (New York: Barnes & Noble, 2008). Ecce Homo, Nietzsche’s last book, written in 1888 and borrowing its title in a humanist vein from the phrase by which Pilate introduced the tortured Jesus to the hostile crowds includes such amusing, narcissistic, and thematic chapter titles as “Why I Am So Wise,” “Why I Am So Clever,” “Why I Write Such Good Books,” and “Why I Am A Destiny.”

[51] Soren Kierkegaard, Works of Love (New York: HarperPerennial, 2009), 58.

[52] Ibid., 26.

[53] Ibid., 54.

[54] Ibid., 27.

[55] Ibid., 54.

[56] Ibid., 42.

[57] C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves (New York: Harourt Brace Jovanovich, 1999), 119.

[58] Ibid., 127, 133.

[59] C.S. Lewis, The Discarded Image (Cambridge: CUP, 1964), 34, 93.

[60] C.S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet (New York: Scribner: 2003), 34. See also Seth Myers, “Models of the Medievals and Dante,” Narnian Frodo, Jan. 10, 2018, https://narnianfrodo.com/2018/01/10/models-of-the-medievals-and-dante/.

[61] Owen Barfield, The Rediscovery of Meaning and Other Essays (San Rafael: The Barfield Press, 2006), 11.

[62] E.M.W. Tillyard, The Elizabethan World Picture: A Study of the Idea of Order in the Age of Shakespeare, Donne, and Milton (New York: Vintage, 1959), “The Chain of Being” and “Links in the Chain,” Chapters 3-4, 25-82.

[63] Sir John Davies, The Poems of Sir John Davies, ed. R. Krueger (Oxford: OUP, 1975), 94, as cited in Malcolm Guite, Faith, Hope, and Poetry: Theology and the Poetic Imagination (Burlington: Ashgate, 2014), 78.

[64] Ibid. (Guite), 79.

[65] Ibid., 84.

[66] C.S. Lewis, Perelandra (New York: Scribner, 2003), 187.

[67] Ibid.

[68] Ibid., 188.