Why the multiverse is having a moment
Plus, a rundown of the books, films, music and more by Tortoise Media, the slow news agency
Friday 13 May 2022 By Matt d’Ancona
Welcome to the latest Creative Sensemaker from Tortoise Media.
‘Don’t forget to breathe’: this is the instruction handed on a piece of paper to Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) in a lift as she embarks on a dizzying rollercoaster ride through the multiverse in Everything Everywhere All At Once (general release, 13 May).
It’s a moment nicely reminiscent of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy and its legendary mantra: ‘Don’t Panic’. It’s also good advice for the audience, as the movie launches us on to a quite extraordinary and often manic journey through alternate universes, timelines, and psychedelic scenarios.
Directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (who style themselves as ‘Daniels’), Everything Everywhere All At Once opens in a setting that is the polar opposite of mind-bending adventure and limitless possibility.
Struggling to manage a failing laundromat, Evelyn wearily observes the collapse of her marriage to the gentle but diffident Waymond (Ke Huy Quan); tries desperately to please her father Gong Gong (James Hong); and, worst of all, is increasingly alienated from her lesbian daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu, superb).
Blasted out of her life of mundane disappointment, Evelyn discovers that she must ‘verse-jump’ across alternate realities to stop the cosmic supervillain Jobu Tupaki (Hsu’s alter ego) – ‘an agent of pure chaos’ – from destroying the entire multiverse, and, in the process, pull her daughter back from the void of the Everything Bagel (yes, really).
Many of the scenes into which Evelyn is flung are catnip for cineastes, with an array of references to classic movies. Meanwhile, metaphysical questions jostle for our attention with sheer zaniness. In one alternate reality, human beings have hot dog fingers and Evelyn and Deirdre live in domestic bliss. In another, Waymond is a suave, immaculately dressed figure who discourses sagely on lost love and the fragility of the human heart.
As for this multiverse business: it is true that there’s a lot of it about right now – the recently released Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness, and the new Apple TV+ series Shining Girls being just two examples. Not to be confused with the ‘metaverse’ – the simulated reality that underpins The Matrix movies – the idea of the multiverse has legitimate, if contested, roots in advanced mathematics and quantum mechanics.
The famous problem posed by Schrödinger – is the cat in the sealed box both dead and alive until an interaction by quantum particles? – was answered (though not settled) in the 1950s by the American physicist Hugh Everett who proposed in his ‘Many Worlds Interpretation’ that the cat survives in one reality and is an ex-feline in another.
The scientific and metaphysical questions posed by the theory of the multiverse are legion. But what Everything Everywhere All At Once does, triumphantly, is to humanise the idea; transforming its complexities into the pulp, anxiety, pain and love of day-to-day experience.
Here are this week’s recommendations:
Conversations With Friends (BBC Three, 15 May; all episodes iPlayer)
As her star has risen to the cultural stratosphere, Sally Rooney has inevitably and increasingly divided readers of her books and of the television adaptations they have inspired. Suffice to say that if you loved the original novel, published in 2017, you will derive much pleasure from this 12-part dramatisation. Bobbi (Sasha Lane) and Frances (Alison Oliver), students at Trinity College Dublin, are former lovers, now best friends, who perform the latter’s work at slam poetry events. They meet established writer Melissa (Jemima Kirke) and her actor husband Nick (Joe Alwyn) and become embroiled in a complex, quadrilateral mess of relationships, in which loyalty, love and health (mental and physical) are tested to the limit. As always in Rooney World, the pace is extraordinarily languorous, which occasionally tests the viewer, but is ultimately the engine of the tensions which course through and bind the drama – especially in the affair that develops between Nick and Frances. All four principals are excellent – but the standout is Lane, who lit up the big screen in Andrea Arnold’s wondrous American Honey (2016) and is surely on her way to superstardom.
Authenticity: Reclaiming Reality In A Counterfeit Culture by Alice Sherwood
There are now shelves full of books on post-truth, disinformation, conspiracy theories and digital fakery (and I should know). All credit, then, to Alice Sherwood, senior research visiting fellow at King’s College, London, for her courage, resourcefulness and sheer imagination in exploring and shedding fresh light on this familiar ground. What makes Authenticity so terrific is that she is in no way bound by the intellectual paradigms, scholarly maps or political assumptions of her predecessors. Indeed, the sheer breadth of her subject matter is extraordinary: from the lessons of evolution and the art world to the delusions of the ‘Counterfactual Community’ during the pandemic and the growing industry of fact-checking and its automated cousin, ‘robo-checking’. Most striking is her optimism and refusal to join in the gloom of the ‘cyber-miserabilists’. The longer view – which she invariably takes – suggests that humanity’s epistemological immune system will rise to the challenge with which it is presently faced.
Truth by Alexis Ffrench
Lazily labelled the master of ‘piano chill’, Alexis Ffrench is so much more than that: a true maestro of genre fusion, who brings the rigour of his classical training to bear upon R&B, soul, big band and cinematic soundscapes. This eclecticism – familiar to anyone who has enjoyed his Sunday afternoon shows on Scala Radio – courses through this wonderful new album. Recorded in the legendary Real World studios near Bath – with a 70-piece orchestra collaborating remotely in Vienna – Truth is an affecting dive into Ffrench’s inner emotions, driven by the death of his father and the continuing impact upon the 52-year-old virtuoso of a friend’s suicide when they were in their twenties. The album’s rawness and unashamed melodrama make this one of the stand-out classical releases of 2022 to date.
That’s all for now. Enjoy the weekend and take care of yourselves.
Editor and Partner