Everything Everywhere All At Once Primer

Writing • Culture
Spoiler alert! If you’re planning to see EEAAO but haven’t yet you might want to stop reading.

This movie made me feel things I never knew cinema could make me feel. Aside from the affective I also found that the directors created a wild intellectual bridge between Western and Eastern thoughts around the meaning and purpose of life. What was bewildering when reading reviews on this movie was that no one made any connections to Buddhist or Taoist philosophy and culture. So, here’s a quick primer where I dump some words and hope that I intrigue you enough to google them.

👉 It should be noted that since Buddhism came to China by way of India that there are important connections there that I am ignorant of. In China, Buddhism mixed with indigenous philosophies like Taoism to become what is known as Chan (禪宗). Chan then spread to Japan as Zen, Korea as Seon, and Vietnam as Thiên.

The “everything bagel” is similar to the Zen symbol of “emptiness” or “空” in Chan. This doesn’t mean empty in a Western sense but vacuousness in the sense that everything is impermanant — especially ideas and concepts about reality. The popular Western reading of this idea expresses itself in nihilism. 

Emptiness brings freedom in Chan — in that you can let go of clinging as it is no longer really “real”. When faced with a flood of multiple identities you can accept the torrent or break.

Evelyn seems to be modelled after the popular bodhisattva Guanyin. A bodhisattva is a being who has achieved enlightenment but who comes back to help other beings move towards the same. Their infinite compassion is one of the highest ideals in Chan.

The sillyness of the fight scenes reflect American slapstick on the one hand and Taoist whimsy on the other. Taoist texts often mocked the seriousness, rigidity, and absolutism of social traditions. In the Dao De Jing a famous line says, “When all in the world deem the beautiful to be beautiful; it is ugly. All deem the good to be good; it is bad.”

The googley eyes represent the hints into the true nature of things in the everyday. When an eye attaches itself to Evelyn’s forehead it symbolized the opening of the third eye — a symbol of enlightenment.

“Linji, founder of one of the two Chan lineages that have remained continuous to the present day, urged his students to become “true persons of no rank” (zhenren wuwei, 真人無位) who refrain from taking any fixed position, improvising as needed in any situation to contribute to the emergence of enlightening relational dynamics.”
From Chan Buddhism (SEP)