People-Michelle Yeoh

This image released by A24 shows Stephanie Hsu, from left, Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan in a scene from “Everything Everywhere All At Once.”

Movies are kind of like alternate realities, a self-contained plane of existence coexisting with one’s own. Physicists and science fiction writers refer to this as parallel universes. Woody Allen dealt with it in “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” where a movie character (Jeff Daniels) stepped out of the screen into our world. Or, in point of fact, stepped off the screen into an alternate movie world that we are watching on a screen.

The concept of parallel universes assumes multiple versions of reality going on at the same time. The sum of these parallel realities is called a multiverse.

These days the buzz word (in movies, video games, comic books and speculative fiction) is metaverse. This is defined as “a virtual-reality space in which users can interact with a computer-generated environment and other users.” But virtual reality and reality and parallel realities and factualized reality seem to be blending together in Hollywood.

Several current movies tackle the subject:

In “Everything Everywhere All at Once” Michelle Yeoh plays a housewife “swept up in an insane adventure, where she alone can save the world by exploring other universes connection with the lives she could have led.”

On other movie screens, we find “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” where real-life actor Nicolas Cage portrays a fictional version of himself called Nick Cage, a bankrupt actor hired by a billionaire to show up at his birthday party, which turns into a movie starring Nic Cage and Demi Moore playing Nick Cage and his fictional wife Olivia. (Is your head spinning yet?)

And coming soon we will have “Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness.” To quote the late Marvel creator Stan Lee, “Nuff said.”

Hollywood has toyed with the idea before:

“Sliding Doors” had Gwyneth Paltrow exploring the two paths her life could take depending on whether she catchs a train.

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” has the web-slinging superhero calling on Dr. Strange to conjure up parallel realities.

You could even lump Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland” into this alternate world list.

Back to “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” the new science-fiction action film written and directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (known collectively as the Daniels). Here, we meet Evelyn Wang (Michelle Youh), the frumpy proprietress of a laundromat, a woman whose taxes are being audited by the IRS. But a bagel (“the Bagel of Doom”) interrupts her life, sending her spinning into alternate universes ranging from Alphaverse where she meets a new improved version of her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) to one where she works in a kitchen with a raccoon to one where people have hot dogs for fingers to one where she’s a famous movie star (the film uses real-life footage of Michelle Youh on the Red Carpet).

This so-called verse-jumping technology invented by the Alpha version of Evelyn allows people to “access the skills, memories, and body of parallel universe counterparts by fulfilling specific conditions.”

The film is loaded with Easter Eggs paying homage to other films (other realities?) such as “Ratatouille,” “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” “Die Hard,” “The One,” “The Matrix,” and the Wong Kar-wai films, among others.

However, this wacky mind-bending thrill ride has deeper undertones. Aside from being an absurdist black comedy, it explores the meaning of life and rejects the nihilism of today’s Gen Z.

As one observer put it, “There’s nothing worse than submitting to the nihilism so trendy with the next generation. Our lone hope of recourse is to embrace all the love and beauty surrounding us, if only we’re present enough to see it.”

Or as Evelyn Wang concludes: “Of all the places I could be, I just want to be here with you.”

And her husband Waymand responds: “So, even though you have broken my heart yet again, I wanted to say, in another life, I would have really liked just doing laundry and taxes with you.”

Sort of like Dorothy’s proclamation that “There’s no place like home.”

You will remember Michelle Yeoh from the chop-socky “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” 007’s “Tomorrow Never Dies,” and more recently “Crazy Rich Asians.”

You might not recognize Ke Huy Quan as Data from “The Goonies” or Indiana Jones’ sidekick Short Round in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.”

Others featured in “Everything Everywhere All at Once” include Stephanie Hsu (“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”), James Hong (“Chinatown,” “Big Trouble in Little China”), Jamie Lee Curtis (“Halloween,” “A Fish Called Wanda”), Jenny Slate (“Bob’s Burgers”), and an uncredited appearance by composer Randy Newman (“Toy Story”)

As Evelyn Wang’s daughter Joy tells us, “The universe is so much bigger than you realize.”

The point is made by the end credits, when the camera pulls back to reveal that we are watching another audience watching the credits.

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Shirrel Rhoades is a film critic and former media executive. He previously served as executive vice president of Marvel Entertainment and has produced several movies and documentaries. He was also a senior faculty member of New York University’s Center for Publishing. He lives in Key West, Florida, and Lake Lure, North Carolina. Contact him at

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