Updated: May 13
Kathleen Felli comments on the Oscar-winning film and the sometimes complicated relationship between immigrant mothers and first-generation daughters.
When Michelle Yeoh accepted her Best Actress award at the 95th Oscars, she said in her speech, “I have to dedicate this to my mom, all the moms in the world, because they are really the superheroes and without them, none of us would be here tonight.”
Featuring a majority Asian cast, Everything Everywhere All at Once tells the story of an immigrant mother, Evelyn Wang, who embarks on a multi-dimensional journey to save the world. However, to say that that is all she does would be a gross misunderstanding of the whole film. In the midst of universes where everyone is a rock or have sausages for fingers, the film tells the extremely intimate story of an immigrant mother and her American daughter, Joy, coming to understand one another.
Evelyn is not a perfect mother by any means. Attempting to keep her personal world together, she ends up hurting those whom she loves most. In the beginning of the film, Evelyn denies Joy’s identity as a gay woman, scolds her for being distant from the rest of the family, and urges her to pursue a career that will – above all else – make money. Experiencing expectations that are not unfamiliar for daughters of immigrants, Joy’s only way of fighting against them is to subject her mother to this multiverse quest. How can Evelyn achieve her quest? It’s simple – find the universe where Joy feels loved.
As the movie progresses and the audience sees the various realities that Evelyn must live through to achieve ultimate peace, it becomes clear that the villain is neither she nor her daughter. The greatest stress in the exposition of the plot comes in the form of an IRS agent who is hell-bent on knowing the Wang family’s full financial history. Filing taxes becomes extremely important for the Wangs, as it can have an impact on their ownership of a laundromat to keep themselves afloat. Evelyn operates from a mode of survival, trying to put out the fires that are most likely to burn the house down. In doing so, she neglects what some may deem inaccurately the “trivial” aspects of her daughter’s life. However, the ending of the movie demonstrates that Joy’s struggles are anything but trivial, and had a tangible impact on her relationship with her mother. Evelyn comes to realize this, but not without going through a journey of reflecting on her own personal trauma as an immigrant mother.
This film is a touching piece that demonstrates the delicate relationships that immigrant mothers and first-generation daughters have with one another. These relationships are difficult to manage at times; not because the two don’t love each other, but because they live in a society that makes it impossible to put their love first. Perhaps if there weren’t IRS agents hunting down immigrant parents to prove their worth to American society, mothers and daughters would not have to question if they love each other in any universe.
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