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The inner lives of women are having a pop culture moment

We are having a brief moment in pop culture where the inner lives of older women are on display, even when they are near-cartoonish mid-life crises

Michelle Yeoh in ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’.
Michelle Yeoh in ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’. (IMDB)

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If I have your number, I have texted you last week asking, “Have you seen Everything Everywhere All At Once?” And if you said no, I definitely did this strange dance of getting you to go see it, without hyping it so much that it could only be a letdown. But even without my texting you, you probably knew from the vibes that it is a cool, arty movie in which Michelle Yeoh plays Evelyn Quan, a Chinese immigrant running a laundry business who has to suddenly learn how to fight and traverse a million parallel universes—in which her husband, father, daughter and auditor all have different avatars.

What is the movie like? It’s like halo-halo, the dessert from the Philippines with crushed ice, coconut milk, fruit, coconut strips, chickpeas and a dozen other things. It’s perfect. Everyone is likely to gaze into its technicoloured, whipped cream surface and find meaning for themselves.

Also Read: Can a fight do you more good than harm?

But what is it about? You could, like my two friends and me, groan that the movie is making a big case for noble motherhood, a free-floating obsession of American movies, so much so that even Sandra Bullock, free-floating as an astronaut in Gravity, couldn’t get away from it. Or you could giggle at the thread in which the adult daughter, Joy, turns away from productivity and becomes the evil high priestess of a navel-gazing cult, the navel represented by a giant bagel, and then really only wants the mother also to navel-gaze. Or you could have an intentional parenting moment when you realise that the daughter just wants the mother to, you know, hang with her.

It is true, of course, that kids just want their parents to be there, not run around doing the labour of households, and all the Instagram accounts I am addicted to remind me to wallow in the joy, in the Joy. They tell you that if you have the privilege of being invited into the world of a young person, then “you have the opportunity to be free but you choose stress instead”. I just want to tell these YOLO villains, however, that for a child to be well taken care of requires the parent to be both Martha and Magdalene—listen to what the child prophet is spouting and also cook dinner for her apostle pals. So there, you bagel lover, so there.

Perhaps the whole movie is a message to embrace carbs, I said to my friend.

Or you could cinema-nerd out and just enjoy the full and ridiculous splendour of the visual multiverse of the movie—the enjoyment you get from knowing that someone has slept way too little for many months to produce every detail of this shaadi. There but for the grace of God go I, you say to yourself, and roll about in the meadow of film-makers Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s obsession with detail.

However detached you are as a movie watcher, it’s hard to watch the intergenerational trauma and forgiveness carousel that Hollywood is currently on (from Encanto to Everything…) and not cry ugly tears. I defy you. I defy you to not weep a little at the promise that whole other worlds are possible which are not full of dragon-fed cruelty

I love that we are having a brief moment in global pop culture where the inner lives of older women are on display, even when they are actual cartoon abuelas or near-cartoonish mid-life crises.

After I watched Everything, I have no clue what Evelyn Quan’s character wants from life in the known universe. Does she just want some peace and quiet? But like the child in a recent viral video playing pretend restaurant told her father, “We are not serving that today.” When are we ever?

It is likely that you, like me, will just enjoy seeing Evelyn’s complete lack of intentional living, her lack of mindfulness. Her inner life, organised in relation to the thousand different people in her outer life, is chopped fine like a MasterChef contestant’s vegetables.

On the outside, too, it is not like Evelyn is on top of her to-do lists. In fact, it is a scientific truth inside this world that Evelyn can be anything in other universes because she is so bad at everything in this one.

Neo and other heroes of sci-fi and fantasy are often destined to be The One, Neo being an anagram of One. Evelyn is destined to be Everyone and always by doing things destiny has not planned for anyone.

What does Evelyn want? Mary Ruefle, the poet, once wrote, “I think the sirens in The Odyssey sang The Odyssey for there is nothing more seductive, more terrible, than the story of our own life, the one we do not want to hear and will do anything to listen to.” And this depiction of this inner life of a woman who simply can’t stay in the moment even after she has risen to sci-fi bodhisattva status towards the end—it is that which gives you the feeling of a scoop of halo-halo in your heart.

Nisha Susan is the editor of the webzine The Ladies Finger and author of The Women Who Forgot To Invent Facebook And Other Stories.

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