Put Some Gay In Your Day, Dallas!

Everything Everywhere Everyone

Imagine skipping class as a junior in high school and going to a malt shop for a Coke.  The publisher of The Hollywood Reporter sees you there and asks if you want to be in the movies.  Such a chance meeting launched the career of Lana Turner.

Or try this.  Your parents are working in a ski lodge, and you pose for a picture for the club photographer.  The picture is put in a photo album, and one of the guests sees your picture and then shows it to a powerful Hollywood agent.  Before you know it, you find out that Norma Shearer is your fairy godmother, and your name is changed to Janet Leigh.  You get to be a movie star, marry a movie star named Tony Curtis, and have a daughter who is a movie star.

I’ve always liked Jamie Lee Curtis.  So when her performance in Everything Everywhere All at Once started getting Oscar buzz, I naturally wanted to see it.  But to be honest, a story centered on an aging Chinese immigrant couple and their troubles with an IRS audit didn’t sound like my cup of tea—green, black or otherwise.  But I had it all wrong.

Karl and I watched it a few days ago, and it is the most unlikely candidate for a movie I can’t get out of my head.  There will be no spoilers here, as I’m not entirely sure I could give away the plot if I tried.  But it did make me think—maybe not about what the filmmakers intended—but stimulating thought is almost always a good thing.

The first several minutes of the film involve an attempted conversation between the immigrant couple, which might seem familiar to most married folks.  One party is distracted and harried, the other is seeking the other’s focus and attention.  But they speak Chinese and English, and they move back and forth between the languages with such fluidity that it nearly gave me whiplash.  

As the movie progressed, I could identify the parts and pieces of surrealism and fantasy, with healthy doses of martial arts and science fiction for good measure.  But the thing that I focused on was the idea that every choice we make creates an alternate universe where that choice wasn’t taken.  It’s like “coulda, shoulda, woulda” on acid.

Here in the plain old world of one universe, which is stunning enough to contemplate, we understand that some of our choices have life-altering implications.  Choosing a school, getting married or divorced, having a child, taking a job—all of these things send us down a particular path.  Making a different choice would have created a different outcome, perhaps more desirable or not.  But we’ll never know.

Sometimes it’s the little choice that creates the big change.  Ask Lana about skipping class or Janet about having her picture taken.  

Years ago, I made one of those choices when a friend was visiting from out of town, and we decided to go for drinks to get the weekend started.  We met two other guys like us, one who lived in Dallas and the other a visiting friend.  After a weekend of partying, the out-of-towners went on their way, and my new friend Mike (not exactly a boyfriend, mind you) and I were left in Dallas.  I can trace many of my best friends over the ensuing decades to that chance meeting.  How different would my life have been had we gone to a different bar that Friday?  

Some of us make choices that only affect ourselves or those immediately around us.  Then there are those whose decisions are much more consequential.

Jimmy Carter, widely thought to be a good man but a failed president, lost his bid for reelection at least in part due to his handling of the Iran hostage situation.  His choices led to the release of the hostages and prevented war with Iran.  He could have gone in guns blazing, as some other presidents no doubt would have done, and thousands of people would have died.  Lots of other universes there.    

Gerald Ford made the choice to pardon Richard Nixon, a move that led him to be accused of having made a “corrupt bargain.”  Years later, Ford received the Profile in Courage award from Senator Edward Kennedy.  A quarter-century after the fact, Kennedy said that history had proven Ford to have made the right decision.  But did he?  If Nixon had faced the consequences of his criminality, there would have been a legal and political precedent that could have been applied to support holding other former presidents accountable.  Know what I mean?

I hope this multiple universe idea is just thought porn.  It’s exhausting sometimes to live in the one where we actually reside.  But Lana and Janet still make it a little more fun.  Jamie Lee, too.