Everything everywhere all at once — through the eyes of a neurodivergent

by Ana Valdes

Every time I eat a bagel I think about the universe- well, the multiverse. I guess, that’s probably a weird thing to say about a staple food in American households There are different types of bagels– plain, sesame, blueberry, rainbow, chocolate chip, everything.  In the film Everything Everywhere All at Once, a bagel is everything one character holds dear to themselves– hopes, dreams, memories, and even mundane things like old report cards and personal ads, the little things about life that matter but don’t at the same time. This simple breakfast food becomes an enigma, representing the vastness of the universe and the interconnectedness of all things. That’s how it is having to balance living with acting neurotypical and being neurodivergent. Everything Everywhere All At Once is about a mother and daughter relationship and breaking generational curses in immigrant households.  It’s also a movie for people who have ADHD. Honestly, it’s the only film I could watch without picking up my phone and scrolling through TikTok while watching it. 

In Everything Everywhere All at Once, Malaysian actor and action star Michelle Yeoh play unlikely hero Evelyn Quan Wang, a Chinese-American immigrant who runs a laundromat alongside her husband, Waymond. The characterization of Evelyn is messy. I don’t mean in a messed up way it’s just the way her character is, which to me screams out “unmedicated ADHD.”  The beginning of the film starts with Evelyn having trouble in the middle of an IRS audit (the piles of receipts really tell on themselves). Her life begins to tilt little by little, with her husband Waymond wanting a divorce and her daughter (Joy) on the edge of leaving her family behind because Evelyn can’t own up that Joy doesn’t live up to certain expectations. Evelyn’s balancing act between family and business is a fraction of the chaos to come into her life. The film portrays Evelyn’s messiness in the mix perfectly. As someone who has ADHD, I love how the character is portrayed- we can see that she literally doesn’t have her sh*t together. Her home is a mess. Honestly, a room can tell a thousand words. People who have the disorder don’t only make messes. They often walk away from them. ADHD can cause trouble focusing and forgetfulness, which can lead to messy and disorganized spaces. It’s also important to note that not every person with ADHD will experience tendencies toward messiness or disorganization in their space. And for some people, certain treatment and management strategies for ADHD may help them get more organized. Of course, it’s also entirely possible to be disorganized and not have ADHD. A busy schedule, life stresses, other mental health conditions, or even just a lack of care for tidiness can cause a messy room, too.

The cinematography also hints at an ADHD mind. The chaos unfolding in fast motion, the kung-fu moves and the pretty colors, and the costumes and sets and timeline jumps are how it feels to have ADHD. Everything goes fast. Many people with ADHD go through the same experiences I do. I like how the film goes by in fast motion that motion. The fast motion accommodates the brain of the person who has ADHD.  People with ADHD have differently developed frontal lobes than people without. Because of that, our brains have become “faster” in a way. When managed right, that becomes a superpower (sort of- I’m not talking about the Scarlet Witch in this). Have I found that I tend to think faster than most people? No. But at the same time, yes (I’m not a narcissist I swear!). Fast thinking also connects with creativity (which the movie continues to do- duh!). I’ve found that having ADHD actually makes me more creative too.  Some people see ADHD as simply about inattention, manifested as mind wandering or drifting of thoughts.  But such drifting can lead to new, useful, and creative ideas. Although compared to those without ADHD (neurotypicals), individuals with ADHD also reported being more creative in the specific areas of performance and mechanical/scientific creativity (a confidence boost for us). 

Evelyn’s daughter Joy is a first-generation, gay young woman who is at odds with her mother through multiple dimensions. I relate to Joy since we are both daughters of immigrant parents.  I, like her, have parental issues and sometimes I believe nothing really matters and want to whip out my own everything bagel.  But I feel strangely more related to Evelyn in the aspect of mental health. Although her character also feels the feeling her daughter is feeling but without knowing. That’s how generational trauma works. It’s the interminable heartbreak Evelyn feels in the long wake of her father’s rejection. The grueling demands of running a small business as an immigrant woman have overrun Evelyn’s life and her ability to marvel at everyday beauty. Another example that I personally like is the ending scene of the movie when Evelyn finally asks Deirdre (the IRS agent)  to repeat herself. It’s not uncommon for people with ADHD to refuse help, because they want to prove that they’re capable or they think asking for help is making them seem weak or doing something the “normal” person can do. Throughout the film we can see that Evelyn is not the type to not ask for help even though she is struggling- there’s a reason for that. I like that at the end of the film we can finally see her character being more confident of herself and asking for directions and reassurance of her character that we saw at the beginning of the film- her character growth is phenomenal. Many people (especially adults) with ADHD are often surprisingly resistant to getting support or making positive changes in their lives. Life has been challenging for so long that ease seems impossible even to imagine. Shame is toxic, makes us feel undeserving, and therefore keeps us stuck in the clock. I like that the film does not shy away from the challenges not only people with ADHD go through but also neurotypical folks. I personally can relate to this also. I remember when I was in high school I hated asking for help even if the teacher already explained it. I always needed help but always decided not to ask. While throughout the film we see Evelyn’s attention wandering off to her other selves in other universes, by the end she brings herself back to her original reality and focuses on the life she currently has. 

Evelyn learns to calmly accept and respect others’ feelings, too, something that she perhaps did not lack but was probably suppressed in her among all the stress and chaos of her ordinary daily life. I highly recommend this film if you have mommy issues or have/think you have ADHD. This film deserved the Oscar it got.