It is only a minor spoiler for Everything everywhere all the time to say that compassion plays a role in the film. After watching it today, it struck me that it is not the female character who is initially the empathetic compassionate one, rather the father. The film subverts masculine expectations far better than many Andrew Tate takedowns, all without under mining the central female characters development. The film’s story provoked me in ways that much recent literature has not: to be compassionate and empathetic is not a weakness, it is an inherent strength we all possess. By putting it subtly, beautifully, on screen, it resonates in a way that cuts through toxic masculinity with a hug and pinkie finger power move.
We all seek to make something out of ourselves that provides a protective shell. The Andrew Tates and right-wing ideologues of this world demand that it is brute strength and Alpha aura that makes us strong. Their world is shaped by those who take, those who verbally and physically brutalise, a pseudo-Darwinian confection for all those men left on the side lines as the world rushes on by. To buy a gun, a knife, a flag, a flare is to empower oneself in the armour of the powerful. Or so they are told.
In reality, it is the isolation and loneliness that is often at the root of much pain and toxicity. In the desire to make something of themselves they search for an identity that appears meaningful. If they cannot get a girl, a decent job, or a house, then they flock together as a murder of Jethroes. Compassion, the ability to both help and forgive themselves and others is sorely lacking from this worldview, seen as weak and effeminate. Hope is found in the bottom of a chat thread, bottle of Jack, or empty shell box.
Yet, this is not to say that hope, empathy, and compassion are empty words only to be found in scripture or self-help manuals. Hope has a power all of its own. Misplaced it can lead into very dark corners of the world; hope in salvation, hope in a saviour, hope that somehow everything will just be alright. Hope transcends so much of the English language as to have contradictory meanings and yet just one. This is why compassion and empathy must be wedded to it, and that is what Everything everywhere does so beautifully. It is hope born of compassion that winds itself through the whole film.
This why if we wish to counter toxic masculinity, homophobia, transphobia and racism it is essential we do not wrap up hope of a better tomorrow in the tools of oppression. Belle Hooks raised the spectre of empty hope in her writing, making clear that every cause must be built on the compassion of the community, not just buying more guns and bullets to hold watch at the door. Empathy for the plight of one’s enemy does not make you weak, it helps humanise. Women suffer under toxic worldviews, men struggle to define themselves in a world where to be a man is advertised as power, sex and a high bank balance. None of this is new, just as the Babylonians. It just so happens that the antidote to this toxicity is now just as visible if we care to look.
Of course this could easily veer into religiosity or vapid bromides. Being compassionate and empathetic has been given a bad wrap precisely because it gets tied up in religion and self-help manuals. This is why I believe it is critical that compassion and empathy are shown in the media as tools of hope, that it is good to be compassionate and not just good with a gun or your fists. We cannot solve xenophobia, transphobia, and misogyny simply by arming ourselves with guns and martial arts. Oppressive messages get wrapped in beautiful women, large houses, gold watches, and sharp suits; why settle for anything less than this? That is the hope projected by the right, by Andrew Tate. You fight this by showing hope through empathy, compassion, and the wider community. The answer to loneliness was never more isolation, it was building bridges of hospitality, to open your palm, and creating communities where the isolated feel welcome, wanted, and needed.
No film is ever going to provide the all the answers inside 120 minutes, but Everything Everywhere’s central premise is a great example of showing rather than simply doing. It breaks through the projected hope of insecure things and concludes with praise of the coming together of isolated people to celebrate their lives. Compassion is strong because it does the one thing a gun never could, unifies and breaks down barriers so that new bridges can be built between us.