Googly Eyes at HSMSE: Everywhere all at Once

Original Art by Mina Chioldi
Original Art by Mina Chioldi

Have you seen the googly eyes popping up around HSMSE? They’ve appeared on signs, posters, and various inanimate objects, and despite being occasionally taken down, they are everywhere. I’ve seen so many that I’ve started seeing googly eyes in places where there aren’t any. These googly eyes are a reference to the movie Everything Everywhere all at Once (2022), which has quickly become my favorite movie because of its excellent characters and themes. It’s a movie about family and the meaning of life, coated in 139 minutes of absolute ridiculousness. Parallel universes split off from every decision ever made, with parallel selves living parallel lives that the main characters can access. They’re not normal universes, either: in one of them, people have hot dogs for fingers. In all of them, crazy things happen. There’s an everything bagel that destroys everything, and there’s a dysfunctional family that has to find the meaning of life together. I highly recommend watching it. Does it help that it’s won 7 oscars?

Everything Everywhere all at Once centers around an Asian-American family running a laundromat: Evelyn, who’s being audited by the IRS and judged constantly by her father, whom she’ll never be good enough for. Waymond, who is contemplating a divorce but can’t get enough of a word in edgewise with Evelyn to discuss his feelings. And their daughter, Joy, who feels like a waste of space and believes that nothing in her life matters.

Their world is turned upside down when Waymond is temporarily replaced by Alpha-Waymond. He comes from another universe (the “Alphaverse”), and asks Evelyn to help defeat the multiverse-traveling, universe-destroying, nihilistic Jobu Tupaki. He explains that it is possible to “verse-jump” between alternate versions of yourself in different realities, and that he needs this universe’s Evelyn because Alpha-Evelyn is dead. As Evelyn explores the multiverse and her relationship with Jobu Tupaki, she begins to better understand her home universe and her relationships with her family. To repair the damage she’s done to the multiverse, she must repair the damage she’s done to her own life.

While the premise of the movie is bizarre, the characters are relatable and real. They struggle to find purpose, they frequently sabotage their relationships, and they love each other deeply. Waymond in particular caught my eye: he’s a silly character who tends to be ignored, but he is essential to the story. Even though the movie begins with his marriage slowly falling apart, he and Evelyn stay together. He teaches his wife how to love in the face of uncertainty, and fear, and misunderstanding, which in turn helps her repair her relationship with their daughter. Towards the end of the movie, when both the universe and their family come closer and closer to the point of irreparable damage, they are each forced to decide how they will respond to the chaos and crisis that they are in. Waymond chooses to respond with compassion and hope, saying, “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.” That’s one of the most important messages of the movie: we don’t need to respond to uncertainty by hurting each other.

Everything Everywhere All at Once is what I’d call an “everything movie”: it wants to talk about everything. Major themes include nihilism, self-worth, the meaning of life, love, family, choice, intergenerational trauma, and how to make sense of a world that makes no sense. In particular, the movie comments on parent-child relationships across several generations. Evelyn’s father treats her as a disappointment, and Evelyn takes her feelings of inadequacy out on Joy. This is a vicious cycle that leads to Joy feeling like a complete failure with no value or purpose. And that doesn’t entirely change by the end of the movie (two hours would be a remarkably short time to break a cycle of trauma spanning multiple generations). In one of the very last scenes, Joy tells Evelyn that “You could be anything, anywhere. Why not go somewhere where your… where your daughter is more than just… this?” But over the complete course of the movie, she gains new support and connection from her family that shows her it’s okay to just be this, whether you know the meaning of your life yet or not. When Joy says that “Here, all we get are a few specks of time where any of this actually makes any sense”, Evelyn challenges with “Then I will cherish those few specks of time.”

Joy doesn’t save herself. It’s Evelyn who won’t let her let go, simply because she refuses to believe that the two of them are unworthy of saving. She begins the movie making Joy feel worthless, but ends up (quite literally) pulling her daughter out of a nihilistic perspective. She did it by changing her own view of the world, and choosing to believe in her husband’s philosophy of treating others with compassion, which encourages them to treat themselves with compassion and makes the world an overall better place. In the end, it’s the characters’ conscious choices to love each other and work things out that save the universe from meaninglessness and the total destruction that accompanies it. And It’s not just Evelyn and Joy who reconcile: Evelyn and Waymond choose to repair their damaged relationship, as do Evelyn and her father. Any of these people could have easily seen the worst in each other and never spoken again — in fact, it would have been reasonable if they had done that. There are many parallel universes in which they do that. But they recognize that they love each other, and their determination to stay as a family in this universe is what gives them meaning in their lives. This recognition of love physically appears in the form of googly eyes, which appear on characters towards the end of the movie when they finally “see” and accept each other for what they are.

The googly eyes at HSMSE are meant to remind people of this. It’s so important as a community to remember that everyone is a real person who will respond to how they are treated. Be kind and respectful, even to people you may have problems with, and it makes the world a more positive place. The source of the googly eyes, who wishes to remain anonymous, told me that their inspiration came from the end of the movie, when Waymond tells Evelyn that “When I choose to see the good side of things, I’m not being naive. It is strategic and necessary. It’s how I’ve learned to survive through everything.” He puts googly eyes everywhere as a reminder to see the positive, and those googly eyes start showing up on characters by the end of the movie. The most noticeable googly eye is on Evelyn’s forehead, because (as the source of the googly eyes puts it), “It’s like [Evelyn] opens her eyes, and she decides to see the good instead of what’s lacking, and treats [others] as people who just need help rather than as adversaries.”

What do they want us to take away from all this? “The good is there somewhere, just look for it.” There are so many things that are wrong with our lives, so it’s easy to overlook all the things that go right. Life will never be perfect, but that doesn’t mean that it will never be good. Goodness is everywhere, and like HSMSE’s googly eyes, it won’t be gotten rid of easily.

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