23 May 2024

Multiverse teases, taunts, gives hope, darkens mood, sells books and inspires new-age movies. Cue quantum physics and screenplay writers can do just about anything, since the very fundamental concept of multiverse is that anything that can possibly happen will happen (if it’s not happening already, that is).

Everything Everywhere All at Once pleases some and annoys others. The Oscars committee responsible for the most recent awards is obviously among the former group. To take the multiverse concept to the extreme, there must be a few universes where the film is trashed and Michelle Yeoh mocked for an unexplainable decision to accept a starring role and thus let her previous glory go down the drain.

That’s the whole point. You can’t really admire Everything Everywhere All at Once if it goes against your standard of what a “good film” should be like. But you can’t really criticise it either because ridiculousness and stupidity are obviously and ultimately a big part of why the multiverse is necessary. And once you accept that some other universes must be funnier or more ludicrous than ours, you have to take your hat off to the filmmaker.

(There is no spoiler ahead so you may just keep on reading.)

The concept always popped in when sci-fi movies are concerned. In Back to the Future, you wonder where the “other” Marty McFly goes when Marty McFly the main character returns to the present at the end of the film. He must have gone to what Dr Emmett Brown calls an “alternate reality.”

By and large, though, “old-fashioned” sci-fi movies or novels about time travel talk just about one universe, resulting in the “grandpa paradox” which is impossible to solve. (If you go back in time and kill your grandpa, you wouldn’t be born, would you? And since there is no “you”, who would go back in time to kill the grandpa?) It’s why the Terminator series wreck your brain so much.

Multiverse tackles that paradox nicely. There are many “you” to begin with, and you can jump into another universe, kill the grandpa of another “you” and then go back to your universe where your existence is intact. In a famous science fiction, Timeline, renowned writer Michael Crichton alluded to the possibility that time travel is in fact a trip to another universe which is exactly like ours.

Some cinematic dramas without time machine or hi-tech gadgets also flirted with the multiverse idea, with the likes of Sliding Doors coming to mind. (It was mentioned in Everything Everywhere All at Once _ and convinces many scientists _ that when you make a significant choice, it affects something beyond a common man’s knowledge and a new universe is born. In other words, there is one universe where you get into the train in time and find your future spouse, and there is another universe where you miss it and have to live alone for the rest of your life.)

The utmost concept of multiverse may be somewhat religious. It gives “you” every “direct” experience necessary. In one universe, you may be a murder victim. In another, you may be the murderer. In another still, you may be a police officer investigating the murder. Another example is that you adore Prayut Chan-o-cha in one life and Piyabutr Saengkanokkul in the other. The idea is that you can’t really know how the other side feels or is motivated without experiencing it firsthand.

Multiverse is tied heavily to infinity, which makes it super-scary to guess how many versions of “you” are possibly out there. One scientist explains infinity like this: Imagine giving monkeys keyboards and letting them type at their own free wills. How many randomly-typing monkeys would it take until one accidentally comes up with a Shakespeare novel all complete with correct lower-case, comma, full stop, capitalization and paragraphing? And that’s just a fraction of infinity.

In case you wonder how many other universes there are, or how far multiverse goes, that might answer your question.

Everything Everywhere All at Once is acclaimed largely because it portrays the down-to-earth or ordinary “heroine”. The Michelle Yeoh character does not fly out to save a nosediving plane or use her hands to ward off bullets like they were pieces of paper, but rather summons useful things her other selves have in other universes to deal with difficult situations. One line in the movie is profound. It says something along the line of maybe it’s for a good reason that she can’t accomplish anything in this universe.

This is not to say that typical movie heroism is all bad in multiverse. One of the best plots was actually conceived almost two decades ago. In American TV series “Fringe”, characters fight “themselves” who work for “the other side” in another universe. One even fell in love with the other version of his girlfriend.

Most reviewers, professional or amateurish, accept Everything Everywhere All at Once as it is _ a blur between brilliance and absurdity. But they believe the blur is intentional and lean more toward smart than stupid. The rest of the critics pulls out all the stops to warn of a sleep fest or drunken screenplay writing. Take the worst clichés of martial arts films, cross them with the incomprehensible nonsense of the Marvel multiverse, then top it with a dash of the pseudo-intellectualism of the Matrix series and you have this mess of a movie,” said one comment on the movie website IMDB.

The person obviously does not enjoy Doctor Strange or Spiderman movies that show filmmakers’ rising enthusiasm about multiverse. However, even those who don’t like Marvel productions consider Everything Everywhere All at Once the most complete approach to the multiverse topic to date. “It’s the most original film ever made, period,” said another IMDB comment.

Is the film good or bad then? Let’s put it this way: There will be at least one you who like it, at least another you who loathe it, and at least another you still who are asking the very same question from somewhere apparently far, far away.

By Tulsathit Taptim