The Internet Gave Rise to the Modern Multiverse Movie
Since its inception, science fiction has served as a prism through which to view technological anxieties: Godzilla and Superman rising out of atomic dust, robot lovers that make viewers question the uniqueness of human life, the thrilling and perverse march of extractivism beyond the solar system. The genre’s most original narratives exorcise those fears through catharsis. Humanity outsmarts the kaiju; science cures the runaway contagion. Of all the modern worries, the disconnect between our internet selves and real lives might be the most slippery thing yet to fold into the dramatic arcs of science fiction. Yet somehow, in the last six months, cinema has exploded with a type of film that might be best suited to containing its unwieldy contours: the multiverse movie.
It’s somewhat surprising that such an apt manifestation of the internet has taken so long to develop. Sure, there have been other attempts; movies from Tron to Hackers to Ralph Breaks the Internet have attempted to visualize entering cyber worlds where globs of data travel in candy-colored networks. But what these movies illustrate is a desire for the metaverse, not our actual experience of how it feels to live an internet-augmented life.
The issue, narratively speaking, is that once you take away the fantasy element of stepping through the looking glass/screen, there’s not much left to play with. The experience is mental, not visual or physical. The internet is explosive and revolutionary, but the lived experience of being online is kind of an oversaturated drag—how do you make a story out of the scroll? Watching someone type or tap a smartphone isn’t engaging; creating multiple worlds that mimic the social web’s various pockets is.
The multiverse, like the internet, is not immersive but expansive. The theory of the multiverse posits that there are an infinite number of universes in which all and any combinations of possibilities are playing out. In movies like Everything Everywhere All at Once, Spider-Man: No Way Home, and last week’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the multiverse is less a view into limitless mashups of chance and more about the fracturing and potential of the self and society.
Take Evelyn, the protagonist in Everything Everywhere. She is bitter, distracted, and can’t enjoy her family or her life as she expends all the RAM in her brain trying to keep her business running while dealing with a tax audit. But when Alpha Waymond, her husband from another universe, bursts into her life, she is introduced to all the people she could have been if she made different choices. Had she stayed at home in China instead of emigrating with her husband to America, she might’ve become a kung-fu master and movie star. In another life, a chef. In yet another, a woman with hot dogs for fingers, enjoying a tumultuous lesbian relationship. A deep-seated fear is confirmed. “You’re the most boring Evelyn,” Alpha Waymond explains.
In this mortal life, is there anything more heartbreaking than knowing, or suspecting, that you were just one chance encounter, one brave decision, away from being better, richer, more skilled, more loved, less lonely? Maybe if you hadn’t hit your head in just that particular way as a kid, you’d be a prodigy. We spend a long childhood wondering if we’ll turn out to be good-looking or smart or popular. Then there are those years where it’s in your hands, but so much already feels decided; the window is closing—fast, and then it’ll all be over. And then it’ll really be over.
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May 9, 2022 at 04:10AM