Everything, Everywhere,
Be Kind

How does Everything, Everywhere All At Once capture an enduring insight from the Yijing?

(Warning: some spoilers ahead)

Everything Everywhere What?
Everything Everywhere All At Once is the recent flick that everyone’s raving as their best watch so far, and I couldn’t agree more. Despite the mouthful of a title, EEEAO is a visual feast, a mastery of resourceful filmmaking, as duo directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, known as the Daniels, pulled through all the practical effects and stunts with only indie film budget. The film nevertheless wowed a global audience who love Chinese martial arts and the budding multiverse trope that sparks wilder what-ifs, knowing that it’s no longer far from our reality, as some physicists have already proposed.

EEAAO is science-fiction, fantasy, martial arts-superhero, and family dramedy film – a wacky wrapping of all genres (typical of Asian way of thinking, especially when it comes to food), making it a delicious visual treat to moviegoers from all walks of life. But the heart of the film is a family trying to repair their relationship broken by past regrets, generation clash, conflicting values, and economic survival. This makes the film so relatable to many. It hits the chord so hard that it’s inevitably a tear-jerker after its crazy roller-coaster ride.

This Crazy Multiverse
Multiverse trope is not new. I remember Jet Li’s The One (2001), when a villain messed up its hero version on another universe. That’s what Doctor Strange and Scarlett Witch have been up to these days. It’s crazy, and it gets crazier this time.

But I am more intrigued with the parallel universes in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, and Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle. In Dick’s novel turned into a TV series, it showed us a scary alternate universe, where the Nazis won in WW2, and the Kempeitai was in a killing spree in the streets of California. In Pullman’s world, characters use the Subtle Knife to cut, sneak through, and zip windows between universes.

These two examples are special to me, as they both depicted Yijing. Dick developed the plot out of his Yijing readings, and one chapter has a scene of yarrow stick consultation. Pullman made the fictional truth-telling device called alethiometer (or the Golden Compass) as a direct counterpart of Yijing in our current universe.

But in EEAAO, multiverse is about verse-jumping, or a mind jumping from one universe to the next. To jump, you need get weird as you can, to access skills of your versions in other universes. Hence, protagonist Evelyn Wang (played by Michelle Yeoh), who was a failure in her universe, tapped into another universe a kung fu master version of herself who brutally fights using her pinkies, right after snorting a fly.

Extreme Empathy
When Evelyn’s verse-jumping went into extremes – that is, doing multiple verse-jumps too fast, she suffered a mind fracture. It was the same fate of the main antagonist Jobu Topaki (the alpha version of Evelyn’s daughter Joy, played by Stephanie Hsu). Thus, both of them are capable of being “everything, everywhere, all at once.” That’s crazy, like trying to attend 10 different Zoom meetings in separate devices all at the same time!

Evelyn, just like Jobu, is now in trouble of feeling the pains and sorrows of countless Evelyns. This I think is the real deal in the film’s story – the depiction of extreme empathy. In our time when differing opinions and ideas across all (mostly conflicting) personal and social issues, this mind fracture can be so relatable. I had this sort of “fracturing” myself, when years ago I was trying to make sense of all differing opinions and realities in minds of so many people who are always in disagreement. The challenge is how to be empathic with them enough not to lose yourself altogether.

Multiverse Guanyin
When Evelyn started to transmute a bullet in her forehead into a googly eye, it was a moment of awakening to her power – the power to change the multiversal fates of her enemies. She dodged those who hit her, and instead of hitting back, she turned a man and a woman into a happily married couple, healed a man’s pain by cracking his bones, turned a grenade into a man’s late wife’s perfume. Evelyn has turned them all into their own little joys.

That googly eye scene made me realize that Evelyn is almost similar to Guanyin, a well-known bodhisattva deity in Chinese Buddhism. A bodhisattva is a deity who delays one’s enlightenment to help another become enlightened. Guanyin is also depicted with many hands, where each hand has an eye that can see through the suffering of humanity. Those hands appear to me as the multiverse, and the googly eye is the all-seeing compassionate eye of Guanyin, who always vows to help people ease out from their sufferings.

It turns out, this googly eye is Evelyn’s greatest possession.

Ending Hatred, Spreading Good
While meditating about the film, a hexagram suddenly popped out in my mind, bearing so much similarity to Evelyn’s googly third eye – Hexagram 14. If you look closely, the Trigram Fire above actually looks like a single eye. Below is Trigram Heaven, which often represents an unceasing flow of energy that perfectly represents the multiverse.

screen grab from Everything Everywhere All At Once

Hexagram 14 is often translated as “Great Possession” or “Sovereignty”. That single broken line represents weakness, being supported by many forms of strength. The Image segment (which I call “wise action”) of the text for Hexagram 14 says:

A noble one ends hatred and spreads the good,
She yields to heaven and rests in her mandate.’

Image, Hexagram 14 (translation by Hilary Barrett)

To me, this is the most enduring insight of Hexagram 14 that EEAAO perfectly nailed down: ending hatred and spreading the good. Online or offline, it’s much easier to hate each other because of infinite differences. But true power chooses to be good, and chooses to see and to free the inherent good in everyone.

Evelyn’s husband Waymond’s (played by Ke Huy Quan) eye-opening words, I believe, are the most vital way to spread good:

The only thing I do know is that we have to be kind. Please, be kind. especially when we don’t know what’s going on.

There so much in the world that we don’t know, especially the suffering of others. Behind the smiles and facades of being okay, feelings of despair and alienation are all looming darkness inside. Despite these, kindness expressed is a little candlelight, enough to illuminate and see the good.

Be Kind
“My religion is simple. My religion is kindness,” says the Dalai Lama in one of his interviews. It’s a statement that transcends borders, even multiverses. Kindness is not an easy virtue, and I suppose each of us is the weakest in expressing it, perhaps the greatest failure in living it. But EEAAO and Hexagram 14 remind us: we always have infinite opportunities to end hatred, spread good, and ultimately, be kind.


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