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The Hero’s Journey Breakdown: Everything Everywhere All At Once

By Ken Miyamoto from ScreenCraft · April 12, 2023

The Hero's Journey Breakdown: Everything Everywhere All At Once

How does Everything Everywhere All at Once follow Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey breakdown?

Welcome to another installment of our new series A Hero’s Journey Breakdown where we explore Joseph Campbell’s mythological storytelling structure and how iconic films fit into that mold.

Hollywood development executive and screenwriter Christopher Vogler (The Lion King) created a screenwriting guide from Campbell’s classic story structure by breaking it into twelve stages. For this series, we define the stages in simplified interpretations:

The 12 Stages of the Hero’s Journey

  1. The Ordinary World: We see the hero’s normal life at the start of the story before the adventure begins.
  2. Call to Adventure: The hero is faced with an event, conflict, problem, or challenge that makes them begin their adventure.
  3. Refusal of the Call: The hero initially refuses the adventure because of hesitation, fears, insecurity, or any other number of issues.
  4. Meeting the Mentor: The hero encounters a mentor that can give them advice, wisdom, information, or items that ready them for the journey ahead.
  5. Crossing the Threshold: The hero leaves their ordinary world for the first time and crosses the threshold into adventure.
  6. Tests, Allies, and Enemies: The hero learns the rules of the new world and endures tests, meets friends, and comes face-to-face with enemies.
  7. The Approach: The initial plan to take on the central conflict begins, but setbacks occur that causes the hero to try a new approach or adopt new ideas.
  8. The Ordeal: Things go wrong and added conflict is introduced. The hero experiences more difficult hurdles and obstacles, some of which may lead to a life crisis.
  9. The Reward: After surviving The Ordeal, the hero seizes the sword — a reward that they’ve earned that allows them to take on the biggest conflict. It may be a physical item or piece of knowledge or wisdom that will help them persevere.
  10. The Road Back: The hero sees the light at the end of the tunnel, but they are about to face even more tests and challenges.
  11. The Resurrection: The climax. The hero faces a final test, using everything they have learned to take on the conflict once and for all.
  12. The Return: The hero brings their knowledge or the “elixir” back to the ordinary world.

Here we turn to the Oscar-winning, mind-bending Everything Everywhere All at Once to track the hero’s journey.

The Hero's Journey Breakdown: Everything Everywhere All At Once

Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)

The Hero’s Journey Breakdown: Everything Everywhere All at Once

Note: As with any application of story structure or formula, this is just a hindsight interpretation and implementation of The Hero’s Journey to this cinematic tale. There can and will be variances. 

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The Ordinary World

Evelyn Wang is caught in a stressful world as she juggles multiple responsibilities and stressors, all while dealing with an IRS audit. She struggles with the relationship with her daughter (and trying her best to accept her daughter’s sexuality), being a caretaker for the father, Gong Gong, that had previously disowned her when he didn’t approve of her marriage and dealing with the daily duties of running a laundromat. Her kind-hearted husband Waymond does his best to offer levity within Evelyn’s busy and anxiety-filled life. However, it’s become too overwhelming for him. He loves Evelyn, but he can no longer continue playing second fiddle to her anxieties. Meanwhile, their daughter Joy is struggling with Evelyn’s anxieties as well. She feels suffocated by her mother’s high expectations.

Evelyn, Waymond and Gong Gong go to the IRS for an audit meeting with IRS agent Deirdre.

Call to Adventure

While in the elevator headed up to Deirdre’s audit cubicle, Waymond’s body is suddenly taken over by Alpha-Waymond, a version of Waymond from the Alphaverse, which is a parallel universe (one of millions) where Alpha-Evelyn created technology to allow travel between all of the parallel universe within the multiverse. Waymond explains that Evelyn is in great danger. He gives her strange instructions to follow (along with strange tech that allows her to tap into the multiverse) and says that he’ll talk to her soon. Waybond regains control of his body, and Evelyn is left confused.

During the IRS audit meeting with Deirdre, Evelyn, stressed, decides to follow the instructions Alpha-Waymond gave her. She is transported to a closet where Alpha-Waymond explains that many parallel universes exist because every choice a person makes creates a new alternative universe. His wife, the late Alpha-Evelyn, discovered the existence of these universes and developed “verse-jumping” technology, which enables one to transfer their consciousness to a parallel-universe self and gain their skills and memories by performing a bizarre and “statistically improbable” action, such as eating a tube of chapstick. The multiverse is threatened by Jobu Tupaki, the Alphaverse version of Joy, whose mind was splintered after Alpha-Evelyn pushed her to extensively verse-jump. Jobu is nigh-omniscient due to experiencing all universes at once and can verse-jump and manipulate matter at will.

Evelyn sees a glimpse of Deirdre’s alternate being, an evil subservient of Jobu Tupaki, attack her and Alpha-Waymond, which launches Evelyn back into her current universe. Alpha-Waymon had told her she’ll know when it was time to fight for her life.

After the audit meeting, Evelyn, Waymond, and Gong Gong are by the elevator when Evelyn sees Deridre rushing toward her. She mistakenly thinks this is the evil Deirdre and punches her in the face. Deirdre calls IRS security officers, and Alpha-Waymond takes over Waymond’s body and begins to fight off the officers with force as the IRS building goes on security lockdown.

Refusal of the Call

During the chaos as they try to escape the IRS building, Alpha-Waymond asks her:

“You can either come with me and live up to your ultimate potential or lie here and live with the consequences.”

A terrified Evelyn doesn’t hesitate when she responds:

“I want to lie here.”

She refuses the call to adventure. However, Waymond picks her up and takes her with him.

Meeting the Mentor

An important part of the hero’s journey, this stage is when the mentor shows up. It occurred the moment Alpha-Waymond revealed himself. Alpha-Waymond is Evelyn’s guide through the idiosyncracies of the multiverse. She learns everything from him. He teaches her how to harness the power of verse-jumping. And he also warns her of Jobu Tupaki.

Crossing the Threshold

Evelyn crossed the threshold into the strange world of the multiverse the moment that Alpha-Waymond appeared during her call to adventure. Even her refusal of the call occurred when she was well past the threshold, having semi-verse-jumped into the closet with Alpha-Waymon. She truly crosses the threshold when she hits Deirdre and finally sees Alpha-Waymond’s abilities. Later in this scene, Deirdre’s evil parallel universe version of herself takes over Deirdre’s body and attacks them.

Read More: 8 Lessons the Daniels Can Teach You About Writing Absurd and Moving Stories

Test, Allies, and Enemies

Throughout the IRS building sequences, we learn who Evelyn’s allies and enemies are. We’ve met two versions of Deirdre, both of whom are antagonists of hers. We have discovered that Jobu Tupaki, the villain of this story, is also the Alpha-version of Evelyn’s daughter Joy. We also see the Alpha version of Gong Gong, as he helps to save them. Evelyn has been going through countless tests as she and Alpha-Waymond struggle to survive.

The Approach

Evil Deirdre beats Alpha-Waymond in battle, forcing Evelyn to complete a task (telling Deirdre that she loves her) so she can verse-jump and learn Kung Fu to defend herself.

It works. It now looks as if this will be the way for Evelyn to succeed in destroying the evil Deirdre, and Jobu Tupaki. She no longer has to depend on Alpha-Waymond.

Alpha-Waymond returns and informs Evelyn that they surely have Jobu Tupaki’s attention now.

The Ordeal

And that is the ordeal. Jobu Tupaki is revealed as Alpha-Joy after Evelyn and Alpha-Waymond are arrested and briefly detained within the building. Alpha-Joy/Jobu Tupaki reveals that she has created the ultimate weapon, an “everything bagel” that appears as a toroid singularity that could destroy the multiverse.

The Reward

Alpha-Waymond tells Evelyn the reason that he believes she is the one to save the multiverse. He says that she’s so capable of anything because this version of her is so bad at everything. Every other version of her has excelled in whatever thing or dream they pursued. But Evelyn has never fully gone through with anything in her life, partly because she’s been “stuck” with Waymond, struggling to be a good mother, and running the stressful laundry business. Because of this, she has untapped potential. She now believes in everything Alpha-Waymond has been telling her. And soon realizes that the only way to defeat Alpha-Joy/Jobu Tupaki is to become just like her. If she can be able to see and travel the multiverse as Alpha-Joy/Jubu Tupaki does, she can save it.

The Road Back

Alpha-Gong Gong is later convinced that Evelyn’s mind has been compromised, especially after she refuses to kill Joy to avoid Alpha-Joy/Jobu taking over her body. He sends Alphaverse soldiers after Evelyn, which causes more tests and challenges. While they fight, Alpha-Joy/Jobu Tupaki locates and kills Alpha-Waymond in the Alphaverse. As Alpha-Joy/Jobu Tupaki confronts Evelyn in her universe, Evelyn’s mind splinters, and she collapses.

The Resurrection

Evelyn’s consciousness is now uncontrollably verse-jumping alongside Jobu Tupaki’s across a multitude of bizarre universes. Jobu tells Evelyn that she has been searching for an Evelyn who can see what she sees — that human existence is pointless and that nothing matters. Evelyn is brought to the everything bagel. Jobu Tupaki explains that she wants to use the everything bagel to allow them to die across all of the multiverses. Evelyn is tempted. She begins to act cruelly and nihilistically in other universes, hurting those around her.

However, Waymond, not fully understanding what is taking place but clearly seeing that something is happening, watches the chaos around him. He pleads for everyone to stop fighting. He says the secret to everything he stands for is just being kind. Especially when life doesn’t make sense. Evelyn has an epiphany and follows Waymond’s advice. She uses her multiverse powers to find what hurts those around her and bring them happiness throughout all of the multiverses. This repairs her damage in the other universes and non-violently neutralizes Alpha-Gong Gong and Jobu Tupaki’s fighters.

The Return

In the hero’s journey, the Return is when everything resets. Evelyn and Waymond decide to stay together. Evelyn proudly tells Gong Gong of Joy’s sexuality. Waymond convinces Deirdre to give them another week to situate their taxes. As Alpha-Joy/Jobu Tupaki enters the bagel alone, Joy begs Evelyn to let her go.

Evelyn tells Joy that even when nothing makes sense and even though she could be anywhere else in the multiverse, she would always want to be with Joy. Evelyn and the others save Alpha-Joy/Jobu Tupaki from the bagel, and Evelyn, Joy, and Waymond embrace. They are being kind to each other.

If you want to dive in deeper, check out our other Hero’s Journey Breakdowns!

Ken Miyamoto has worked in the film industry for nearly two decades, most notably as a studio liaison for Sony Studios and then as a script reader and story analyst for Sony Pictures.

He has many studio meetings under his belt as a produced screenwriter, meeting with the likes of Sony, Dreamworks, Universal, Disney, and Warner Brothers, as well as many production and management companies. He has had a previous development deal with Lionsgate, as well as multiple writing assignments, including the produced miniseries Blackout, starring Anne Heche, Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Zane, James Brolin, Haylie Duff, Brian Bloom, Eric La Salle, and Bruce Boxleitner, the feature thriller Hunter’s Creed, and many produced Lifetime thrillers. Follow Ken on Twitter @KenMovies and Instagram @KenMovies76.

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