Everything falling apart everywhere all at once

Tot a la vegada a tot arreu,

Any award that is not based on objective data but on the assessment of a jury opens the door to injustice. It is easy to know who won the 100-metre gold medal (whoever completed the distance in the shortest time) or who won a football match (the team that scored the most goals), but how do we choose the best film of the year? Here come the problems.

The mechanics of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awards, the popular Oscars, are somewhat complex. They involve voting by the members of the Academy, currently some 9,500 people. Everyone votes in their own category (directors voting for directors, actresses voting for actresses…) in addition to Best Picture. The films with the most votes become the nominees, and then a second vote is taken in which the Academy members must rank all the nominees from most to least preferred. If a film ranks as the preferred choice by more than 50 % in the first round, it wins the award. But this does not usually happen. Then, the film that has received the least votes as first choice is dropped from the ballot and the votes it had received are counted for the second choice expressed on those ballots. The mechanics of eliminating the lowest ranked and adding up the following preferences is repeated until, in some round, a film gets more than 50% of the votes. In this way, the consensus on which is the best film of the year will be as large as possible. Some years, however, it is difficult to understand the merits of the winner, or at least that is the feeling I got when watching Everything everywhere all at once.

The film that the academics considered to be the best film of the year 2022 is a mess that moves between surrealism, absurd humour, and martial arts cinema. It presents a situation in which, thanks to a mobile phone app, the different lives that people would have lived if they had made different choices can be connected. The protagonists must navigate through these parallel realities to fight a danger that threatens the universe. Of course, from one alternate universe to the next, we have martial arts fights.

One could say that the film won over the Academy for its originality, but I disagree. The story of different multiverses and a universal danger seems to be taken from any recent Marvel script. Talking about alternative realities depending on different choices or circumstances was the plot of Life on a thread, a brilliant play by Edgar Neville with the incomparable Conchita Montes, released in Spain in 1945. And mixing martial arts and surrealist humour has already been done by much funnier films such as Shaolin Soccer or Kung Fu Hustle. But I also admit that I saw Everything everywhere all at once with too many expectations, and perhaps that is why I ended up not understanding how it got the award.

It is difficult to extract the scientific substance from a film like this, but there is one aspect worth commenting on. One of the parallel realities takes place on a planet where there is no life, and the protagonists become two stones… as part of an idyllic landscape under a beautiful blue sky. Big mistake. When life discovered photosynthesis, the concentration of gases in the atmosphere changed, causing a mass extinction of species for which oxygen was poisonous (most of them). The descendants of those that survived are anaerobic organisms. This change in the composition of the atmosphere had another global effect: the blue colour of the sky is due to the scattering of white light from the sun and its interaction with oxygen molecules. This is why the only blue sky in the Solar System is that of the Earth. Everything can happen everywhere at once, but if there is no life, the sky cannot be blue.

© Mètode 2023 - 119. #Storytelling - Volume 4 (2023)
Full professor of Biotechnology at the Polytechnic University of Valencia and esearcher at the Institute for Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology (CSIC-UPV).