How “everything, everywhere, at the same time” helps heal generational trauma

When I was 13, I asked to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital. I was plagued with debilitating obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), f...


When I was 13, I asked to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital.

I was plagued with debilitating obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), forced to write each individual letter against a ruler, determined to be perfect. It bothered my seventh grade mojo.

Perfectionism, in turn, shredded my sleep schedule. I spent countless hours face down, struggling with my math homework, pressing a mechanical pencil against a ruler. Parables? Forget that. OCD combined with sleep deprivation and overmedication has led to an agonizing flavor of early teenage nihilism – arguably the worst of its kind.

When my mom came to visit, we sat in her car in the hospital parking lot and I told her about it. My head swirling with brain fog, I tried to explain that nothing mattered and how it was pushing me to the edge of the mental abyss. She got it.

She told me, for the first time, that when she was 25, almost the age I am now, life was too much for her too, and she tried to leave it. She saw me, understood me and sat there with me – a golden moment between generations.

This incandescent memory resurfaced a few weeks ago, when my roommate and I went to see “Everything everywhere all at once— a sci-fi action adventure about the emotional implications of the multiverse — at the Alamo Drafthouse Theater in Manhattan’s Financial District.

Evelyn Wang (michelle yeo) is a Chinese-American immigrant who just wants to throw a Chinese New Year party at her family’s failing laundromat, but a suave alter ego of her husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), arrives to warn him that the multiverse is in danger. So Evelyn learns to “verse-jump” – jump between parallel universes to access the skills of other versions of herself – and then realizes that the dark force threatening the multiverse is inextricably linked to her estranged daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu).

Evelyn follows a nihilistic alter ego of her daughter through infinite universes, trying to figure out why she is suffering. Then she is carried over a cliff. Two boulders – one beige and one dark gray – sit side by side, overlooking a ravine and mountains in the distance. It’s quiet for a while. Then legends appear – white for Joy, black for Evelyn. This, apparently, is one of many universes where the conditions were not right for life to form.

“That’s nice,” reads Evelyn’s text.

“Yeah,” reads Joy’s text. “You can just sit here, and everything seems really… far away.”

“Joy,” said Evelyn Rock, “I’m sorry to mess this up -“

“Shhhh,” said Joy Rock. “You don’t have to worry about that here. Just be a rock.

“I feel so stupid -” says Evelyn.

“God!” Joy says. “Please. We’re all stupid! Stupid little humans. It’s like our whole business.

Later, Joy asks Evelyn to let her go. Evelyn slowly nods her head and whispers, “OK.” In our universe, Evelyn drops Joy’s waist. In the world of rock, tan rock slides off the edge of a cliff by rolling over it. But then, in one world, Evelyn turns around to face Joy.

Maybe there’s, Evelyn says, “something that explains why you always came looking for me through all this mess.” And why no matter what, I always want to be here with you. I will always, always want to be here with you. The dark gray rock rushes to the edge of the cliff and topples over it, rolling after its daughter.

The scene broke me, then glued the pieces back together. And it reminded me of the importance of understanding intergenerational trauma – when the effects of trauma are passed on from generation to generation – and address them.

“Everything, everywhere, all at once”, wrote its directors, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, on Twitter, “was a dream to reconcile all contradictions, to make sense of the most important questions and to make sense of the dumbest and most profane parts of humanity. We wanted to stretch in all directions to bridge the generational gap that often turns into generational trauma.

When the 31-year-old star Stephanie Hsu took her mom to the LA premiere, her mom cried. Then his mother, who is from Taiwan, pointed to the screen and said, “It’s me. For Hsu, it was an aha moment: her mother was connected to the character of Evelyn, who faces her own trauma in her relationship with her father, Joy’s grandfather, or Gong Gong (James Hong).

“Life is so messy and life is more than a two and a half hour movie,” Hsu said in a video interview from New York. “Life is long, if you’re lucky. We don’t get a script that helps us succinctly metabolize our sadness.

When she first saw the script, Hsu couldn’t believe what she was reading: the mother-daughter relationship was so poignant and relatable. She knew deep down how complicated and precious this relationship was. And the transfer of energy from the screen to the audience, she says, is very real.

“When you open up like that, you can’t help but look inside yourself and say, ‘OK, that hurt me, and I need to look at that,'” Hsu said. “‘Something inside me wants to heal, and something inside me wants to take that leap of faith.'”

Hsu thinks that’s what art is for: accommodating trauma and providing catharsis. There is a generation of women, she thinks, whose idea of ​​strength is built on toxic masculinity, bravado and inscrutable tenacity.

“Our generation and the younger generation are now exploring different types of strength and what it means to be strong when you are compassionate,” she said. “And how, in fact, empathy and radical empathy and radical kindness is also a tool.”

Peggy Loo, a licensed psychologist and director of the Manhattan Therapy Collective, saw the film on the Upper West Side. She thinks the film can serve as an exercise in the imagination for those who have experienced trauma.

Trauma can narrow the imagination, she said, if your primary points of reference for life’s possibilities emerged from traumatic experiences. To heal, we must be able to see beyond what we have experienced and been exposed to.

“There’s this, ‘We know who we are, we know who we want to be,'” Loo said over the phone. “And then the gap between the two. How can we get there?”

For Loo, part of the film’s strength is in its sci-fi genre, which forces the viewer to suspend reality simply to follow the plot. It’s the perfect counterpoint, she says, and a great way to get the imagination going.

Rather than cleanly ironing out details, as movies usually do, “Everything Everywhere” realistically mimics what change can look like, leaving its protagonist to make mistake after mistake.

Wil Lee, 31, is a software engineer based in San Francisco. “Don’t be reductive,” he said. tweeted“but Everything Everywhere All At Once is this season’s generational trauma slam dunk movie.”

The way it seamlessly weaves together three different languages ​​– Cantonese, Mandarin and English – he continued, reflects how many immigrant households actually communicate.

“It shows that the language barrier is a central part of this intergenerational misunderstanding,” Lee said in a phone interview, adding, “The gap is so huge that you struggle to find the right words to explain yourself to your family.”

In an early scene, when Gong Gong arrives at the laundromat, Joy tries to introduce her to her girlfriend, Becky (Tallie Medel), for the first time. Joy fumbles with her Mandarin and Evelyn launches into Cantonese, introducing Becky to Gong Gong as Joy’s “good friend”. Joy’s face falls.

When Shirley Chana 30-year-old freelance illustrator based in Brooklyn, watched the film in Kips Bay, it was as if the universe had deliberately sent it her way, she wrote in a mailbox reviewto let her know that her own efforts have been seen and to give her the courage to live as her most authentic self.

A week before seeing the film, Chan spoke to her immigrant mother in Cantonese and spoke honestly for the first time about how her upbringing had affected her. Some of the Cantonese dialogue, Chan wrote, was strangely almost verbatim what she said to her mother.

“But in my real life, where that verse jump isn’t happening,” Chan said in a phone call, “I can see the times when she’s trying, like wondering if a friend I’m talking about is my little one. friend or tell me that she is happy for my career.

The sociologist Nancy Wang Yuen, a pop culture expert, sees universality in the specifics of “Everything Everywhere”. Everyone can relate to a dysfunctional family, regrets, transformation, laundry and taxes.

Evelyn is “like our parents, but seen through our lens,” Yuen said over the phone. “If our parents could evolve, that’s what Evelyn would be.”

I asked my own mom to see the movie, and she did, in Chicago’s West Loop — her first time in a movie theater in two years. She sent me a screenshot of a explanatory (I also needed an explainer) with a line circled in black:

“When Evelyn reveals she still wants to be with Joy no matter where they are, it’s the start of a healing process for both characters.”



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