The Images of ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’: Absurdity, Authenticity, and a Lot of Improvisation
Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, collectively known as the Daniels, first met cinematographer Larkin Seiple when they worked on a music video for Foster the People’s 2012 song “Houdini.” The most ambitious project they had worked on to date (they had a list of 70 setups), the music video sees the band killed in an on-set accident and their corpses controlled by puppeteers to become a pop boy band. “Not only did he understand the assignment of it’s about the narrative and it’s about the absurdity, but he just elevated every image in a way where we were like, ‘Oh, my God, I didn’t know our work could feel this good,’” Kwan tells Vanity Fair.
Seiple, who also teamed with the Daniels on their 2016 feature debut, the farting-corpse black comedy, Swiss Army Man, says he’s had one job on every project he’s worked with the directing duo: try to ground it in reality. “They go really big with the ideas—almost to a disruptive point. They’re challenging the audience to be like, ‘Can you still follow this? Is this bit too funny? Does it break the character?’” says Seiple. “I’m the janitor, if you will. I’m just constantly trying to clean things up that are crazy, and make them feel ordinary.”
That challenge reached peak levels with Everything Everywhere All at Once, the genre-jumping epic that follows Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh), a laundromat owner who is recruited to travel through the multiverse and fight off an evil force set on imploding the world. “How do you keep the audience believing in and rooting for characters in a universe that has hotdog hands or there’s a talking raccoon or there’s someone beat to death with a dildo, there’s a butt-plug fight?” says Larkin. “The lighting and the execution of the camera work makes it feel real and visceral. So you get to enjoy the humor of it, but you also get to enjoy the emotional journey. You don’t get swept away in the absurdity.”
The end result of this collaboration is a visually stunning film that has intense martial arts fights, wild futuristic settings, and, yes, butt plugs—but all true to the film’s deep emotional core. For Vanity Fair, Seiple and the Daniels broke down the “happy accidents” and unconventional methods that resulted in six of their favorite scenes.
The Opening Scene