What’s the deeper symbolism of A24’s hit Everything Everywhere All at Once? It moves across a broad multiverse, spanning everywhere from an ordinary IRS office to a vast wasteland devoid of life as it tracks the journey of Evelyn Wang. But it also features rich symbolism that might get lost amid the cosmic chaos.
What’s the deeper symbolism of A24’s hit Everything Everywhere All at Once? True to its name, the movie has a lot going on. It moves across a broad multiverse, spanning everywhere from an ordinary IRS office to a vast wasteland devoid of life as it tracks the journey of Evelyn Wang, a laundromat owner struggling with her failing marriage, strained relationship with her daughter, a visit from her disapproving father, and a looming business audit. But it also features rich symbolism that might get lost amid the cosmic chaos.
From hot dog fingers to the yin and yang of googly eyes and an everything bagel, every frame is packed with images that provide a focal point for the movie’s grand themes. Here’s our take on the symbolism of Everything Everywhere All at Once, explained.
What’s with the Bagels and Googly Eyes?
The central symbols of Everything Everywhere All at Once are the opposing images of the googly eyes and an everything bagel. These are complementary circles – the googly eyes are white with a black interior, while the “bagel” is a black circle with a white interior – evoking the duality of yin and yang, and serving as symbols for the endless repetition of life.
Evelyn: “Another year, pretending we know what we’re doing, but really we’re just going around in circles.” - Everything Everywhere All at Once
On the negative side of things, IRS auditor Deirdre originally draws dark circles on Evelyn’s paperwork. Over the course of the movie, we learn about the “everything bagel,” a device created by the villainous Jobu Tupaki to collapse the multiverse in on itself.
The original idea for the bagel came from the concept of the Schwarzschild radius: the radius at which an object collapses into a black hole. Appropriately enough, Everything Everywhere All at Once also draws on the use of “bagel” as slang for “nothing” or “zero.”
But, it turns out the bagel wasn’t actually designed to destroy everything. Instead, it’s really centering destruction within the person of Jobu Tupaki herself, who’s overwhelmed by her perception of the universe as being inherently meaningless.
Jobu Tupaki: “You know why I built the bagel? It wasn’t to destroy everything. It was to destroy myself.” - Everything Everywhere All at Once
And, in fact, the bagel was created partly to inspire its own opposite, to give Joy a way to live that didn’t collapse into nothingness.
The bagel’s nihilism is balanced out by the white circle of the googly eyes, which takes the same premise and draws an opposite conclusion. Evelyn’s husband, Waymond, is constantly putting googly eyes on things, and she is constantly taking them off. As an apparently inexplicable habit, the googly eyes represent Evelyn’s lack of respect for Waymond and her sense that she would have been better off if she’d not defied her parents and married him.
Evelyn: “I should have listened to my father and not gone with you all of those years ago.” - Everything Everywhere All at Once
But though, at first, they appear to be frivolous (and Evelyn’s initial excursions into the multiverse seem to confirm that her life would have been better without Waymond), in the end, she comes to see the great value of Waymond’s positivity. The googly eyes come to represent the ability to enjoy life and be in the present moment. They’re an affirmation that even if you accept the cosmic vastness of the universe, it’s still possible to find meaning. The googly eyes motivate Evelyn to pursue Jobu Tupaki in rock form, transforming a world without life forms into one with love and warmth, influenced by Waymond’s commitment to avoiding fighting.
Waymond: “The only thing I do know is that we have to be kind.” - Everything Everywhere All at Once
When Evelyn comes into her full power toward the end of the movie, she places one of the googly eyes on her head, explicitly referencing the long tradition of “awakened” and enlightened third eyes – but interpreting that through the movie’s distinct brand of silliness, as represented in elements like Waymond fighting with a fanny pack.
Eventually, Evelyn’s way forward is to balance the negativity of the everything bagel with the positivity of the googly eyes – so the idea that nothing we do really matters (or our lives could be entirely different if we made other choices) doesn’t have to be depressing, but can also offer a liberating freedom. This balance, at last, allows Evelyn and Joy to break through their impasse and simply be present with each other.
Evelyn: “I will always, always want to be here with you.” - Everything Everywhere All at Once
What’s with the IRS?
Okay, this isn’t quite a visual symbol, but it’s worth noting that most of Everything Everywhere All at Once takes place in a nondescript, soul-sucking IRS building, where all of Evelyn’s hobbies, interests, and dreams are turned into numbers on scraps of paper – our first sign of the nihilism that pervades the movie’s darker moments.
The audit is one of the big threats in Evelyn’s life, along with her potential divorce and loss of connection with her daughter. So it makes sense that much of the movie takes place here: Evelyn is, in a sense, “accounting” for her life, including the many hobbies and minor interests that have given her the sense that she’s wasted her life. The structure of the office building helps us get into Evelyn’s head: the endless array of cubicles, piles of receipts, and flurry of enemies with outlandishly colorful outfits and weapons is much like her scattered brain, overloaded with too much information and stimuli, trying to be so many things at once to too many people.
Evelyn and Waymond also have a life-altering conversation in a room that is literally called the “processing center.” Though the IRS is a threatening presence in the movie – and the place where bloody violence first disrupts – it’s also a literal processing center: the audit triggers the events that produce the eventual clarity and acceptance Evelyn learns to bring to her life approach. It gives her the perspective to sort through everything from her issues with her father to her own sense of failure.
Evelyn: “It’s okay if you cannot be proud of me. Because I finally am.” - Everything Everywhere All at Once
What’s with the Hot Dog Fingers and Verse Jumping?
There are several universes that run through Everything Everywhere All at Once, ranging from the “normal” universe where our Evelyn lives, to one where she’s an international movie star with a career mirroring that of star Michelle Yeoh, to one where she’s a celebrated teppanyaki chef. But the strangest universe by far is one where everyone has hot dogs for fingers.
The absurdity of this imagery is the point: directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, also known as Daniels, describe the imagery as representative of “weird moments that make life so special and make the unbearable weight of consciousness a little more bearable” (Dan Kwan, SYFY Wire). The silliness of the imagery also communicates the hidden potential for beauty and meaning in even the most strange or seemingly unappealing situations.
The movie challenges itself to set up a scenario where, amidst its most ridiculous situation, Evelyn is still capable of developing love for her supposed enemy, Deirdre. This is just one example of Everything Everywhere All at Once leaning into randomness and the absurdity of the multiverse.
Evelyn: “That doesn’t make any sense.”
- Everything Everywhere All at Once
Evelyn relies on “verse jumping,” in which she has to do something highly improbable in order to move her own world closer to one where she has a desired skill or talent – a universe that might, from our Evelyn’s perspective, feel far away. So randomness itself is the goal: simply by doing something unexpected, Evelyn is opening herself up to new possibilities.
Waymond: “The less sense it makes, the better.” - Everything Everywhere All at Once
Meanwhile, the silliness of the random fight acts in the movie send us the message that, for all that Everything Everywhere All at Once wants us to contemplate the vastness of the universe, we shouldn’t take things too seriously.
What’s with the Rocks?
The hot dog universe might be the weirdest one, but the least recognizable universe in the movie is one where human life never evolved, and Evelyn and her daughter, Joy, are rocks.
Evelyn: “Joy? Where are we?”
Joy: “One of the universes where the conditions weren’t right for life to form.”
- Everything Everywhere All at Once
The characters speak silently through text on-screen – mirroring a sometimes stoic dynamic or difficulty communicating that parents and children in Asian immigrant communities have discussed experiencing. The use of the rocks also mirrors the use of magical rocks in children’s literature like Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. And according to Daniels, the rocks are a counterpoint to the rest of the movie, the “opposite” of the chaos that defines everything else. In their stillness, the rocks come to represent simplicity. Like most of the possibilities in the movie, simplicity and stillness can cut both ways. On one hand, the rock-like desire to just do nothing echoes Joy’s nihilistic impulses and the temptation both mother and daughter feel to just give up.
But on the other hand, Evelyn’s ultimate embrace of simplicity and the mundanity of her daily life is what ultimately allows her to win back Jobu, and restore her relationship with her daughter.
Evelyn: “Then I will cherish these few specks of time.” - Everything Everywhere All at Once
Accept The Worst Version of Yourself
One of the jokes of Everything Everywhere All At Once is that the Evelyn we’re following is basically the worst of all the potential Evelyns.
Waymond: “You have so many goals you never finished, dreams you never followed. You’re living your worst you.” - Everything Everywhere All at Once
When she starts seeing into her other lives, she realizes all the other Evelyns have realized their talents in great accomplishments – seemingly confirming her feeling that something has gone very wrong in her life. But this worst version of herself is actually the only one who can solve these problems in the multiverse – she’s powerful precisely because she has so much untapped potential. And this speaks to how many of us might fear that we haven’t manifested the most amazing life we’re really capable of and might wish we could get a do-over.
Evelyn: “I saw my life without you. I wish you could have seen it. It was beautiful.” - Everything Everywhere All at Once
In the end, this whole mess gets fixed by boring regular Prime Evelyn – or actually, Prime Evelyn 2, the one who only manages to verse jump slightly to a reality where she gets to go home and redo her tax audit materials (instead of getting into an all-out brawl in the IRS building). It’s this everyday heroine who realizes that the path toward healing is to accept her life, embrace the love she has for her family, and just be present with her daughter.
There are so many references and influences in Everything Everywhere All at Once that it feels impossible to capture all of them in just one viewing of the movie. Likewise, Joy and Evelyn are both overwhelmed by being exposed to so many other lives. Eventually, they have to stop considering all the alternative options and find things to hold onto just to remain in control of their minds. We, too, can torture ourselves with all the paths we didn’t take in life and how well they might have turned out, but ultimately this will never make us as happy as if we just commit to the path we’re actually on, however imperfect it is.
Joy: “You could be anything, anywhere.”
Evelyn: “No matter what, I still want to be here with you.”
- Everything Everywhere All at Once
So just the sheer volume of the symbols in Everything Everywhere All at Once communicates the central theme of the movie: even when things look bad, we have to simply carry on in life, holding on to the things that are important to us.
Waymond: “Every rejection, every disappointment, has led you here, to this moment. Don’t let anything distract you from it.” - Everything Everywhere All at Once
In the end, Evelyn blocks out the nagging possibilities of how things could be and chooses to center herself in the present. And Everything Everywhere All at Once reminds us that it’s the only way to be truly alive.
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