Thus Spoke the Daniels: Nietzsche’s Spirit of Heaviness in EEAAO
Once we accept that nothing inherently matters, we unlock the freedom to decide what matters.
Garrett Kincaid — November 06, 2022
- Thus Spoke the Daniels: Nietzsche’s Spirit of Heaviness in EEAAO
- Once we accept that nothing inherently matters, we unlock the freedom to decide what matters.
- The Eternal Recurrence vs. The Infinite Occurrence
- The Dwarf
- The Bagel
- Kill the Dwarf, Burn the Bagel
- See the World Through Googly Eyes
- Waymond’s Way
- Climax and Conception
- Related Writing
Nothing matters, and life is meaningful. Both are true — or at least that’s the philosophy of Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra and A24’s Everything Everywhere All at Once (EEAAO). If Nietzsche were still alive, EEAAO would be his favorite film of the century. And if Nietzsche had never lived, the film wouldn’t exist.
Like Nietzsche’s philosophy, Everything Everywhere All at Once is mistaken as nihilistic — completely certain that life is devoid of meaning and value. Here, I’ll explain why both are, in fact, life-affirming.
Directed by the Daniels (Kwan and Scheinert), EEAAO accomplishes the impossible: It’s a multiverse movie and a grounded family drama (featuring Evelyn; Waymond; and their daughter, Joy). Rather than use the multiverse to recast Robert Downy Jr. or unite the three Spider-Men, EEAAO uses it as a tool to explore philosophical themes and existential questions. And it’s those questions that sow tension in the film and fuel its resolution. (EEAAO is all that without mentioning its butt-plug Verse Jumps, the one true everything bagel, googly eyes, or that universe where we have hot dogs for fingers.)
The questions EEAAO addresses and the feelings it evokes are analogous to those in Nietzsche’s most popular book, Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Both the film and Nietzsche’s work of philosophical fiction deal with existential dread and the question of whether anything really matters. There’s a Nietzschean concept that pervades EEAAO, which he calls “The Spirit of Heaviness.” In a chapter by that name (also translated as “The Spirit of Gravity”), Nietzsche introduces his famous idea of the Eternal Recurrence.
The Eternal Recurrence and Spirit of Heaviness serve the same purposes for Nietzsche as the multiverse and nihilism do for the Daniels. These concepts are vehicles for an expedition into a dark, existential abyss.
Nietzsche and the Daniels make you feel the weight of the world before suggesting how to make it lighter.
The Eternal Recurrence vs. The Infinite Occurrence
While the Spirit of Heaviness is at the foundation of both works, Nietzsche and the Daniels deliver heaviness differently. They are of the same magnitude but on perpendicular axes.
One source of heaviness for Zarathustra is his realization of the Eternal Recurrence. Everything that has or will happen has happened already. Everything repeats itself forever. Also, in Zarathustra’s case, the Spirit of Heaviness manifests as a dwarf, with whom he argues about morality and metaphysics.
‘Behold this gateway, dwarf!’ I continued. ‘It has two faces. Two ways come together here: nobody has ever taken them to the end. This long lane back here: it goes on for an eternity. And that long lane out there– that is another eternity. They contradict themselves, these ways; they confront one another head on, and here, at this gateway, is where they come together.’ The name of the gateway is inscribed above it: ‘Moment.’
On either side of the present is an eternity, an eternity that has already occurred and will recur forever. In Zarathustra, the existential question is: How could anything matter if everything we do has already happened and will recur forever? Nietzsche’s heaviness runs along the vertical axis of time.
Heaviness for Joy/Jobu comes from the realization that everything that could possibly exist is happening all at once. And the ultimate symbol of heaviness in EEAAO is the bagel. The bagel is the end of possibility — the absence of the opportunity for change.
When you put everything on a bagel, you get this — the truth: Nothing matters. — Jobu Tupaki
In EEAAO, the existential question is: How could anything matter if every possible thing is also happening? The Daniels’ heaviness is on the horizontal axis of space.
EEAAO presents what I’d call the “Infinite Occurrence” as a counterpart to Nietzsche’s Eternal Recurrence. And, as any reader or viewer would attest, both ideas deliver a heavy dose of existential dread.
Kill the Dwarf, Burn the Bagel
Why do people love Zarathustra and EEAAO if the whole point is to remind you that nothing matters? Well, it’s because heaviness and meaninglessness are not the point. Feeling the Spirit of Heaviness is just a prerequisite for a particular, powerful way of being.
Before we learn how Nietzsche and the Daniels respond to the Spirit of Heaviness, it’s important to note how their characters’ journeys differ.
At the start of the book, Zarathustra comes down from the mountains, after 10 years of contemplative solitude, to deliver bad news: “God is dead. And we have killed him.” The crowd calls Zarathustra a madman and dismisses his message. Imagine Zarathustra giving that speech today in your local town square (or, more likely, as a Twitter rant). How would the crowd respond? Would he not be dismissed for stating the obvious rather than for lunacy or heresy? Isn’t God’s death old news?
Joy lives in a post-God-is-dead world: our world. And her journey runs in the opposite direction of Zarathustra’s.
Zarathustra must work out from under the weight of built-up (mostly Christian) dogma around meaning and morality. Conversely, Joy starts from the lightness of there being no god or authority to tell her what matters. Hers is the journey of integrating heaviness to find meaning.
Neither heaviness nor lightness is better than the other. Lightness can either be freeing or debilitating. Heaviness can either feel burdensome or purposeful. We need both.
When Joy becomes Jobu, she falls into the too light life: unencumbered freedom with no direction. As an omniversal being, Jobu can do everything. But, at the same time, she has no reason to do anything. Jobu can fly, but she’s falling from the sky (into a bagel). Zarathustra lives in a society full of beasts of burden — camels and ostriches. His journey is toward lightness: learning how to fly.
Although one starts from lightness and the other from heaviness, Zarathustra and Jobu come to the same realization:
‘Right’ is a tiny box invented by people who are afraid. — Jobu
‘This– is just my way: where is yours?’ Thus I answered those who asked of me ‘the way’. For the way– does not exist! — Zarathustra
This is a central tenet of Nietzsche’s philosophy, which is echoed in EEAAO: there is no objective “good” or “right.” And this realization is key to creating harmony among the light and heavy. The final step is to go beyond rejecting value structures to creating one.
He has discovered himself who can say: This is my good and evil; with that he has struck dumb the mole and dwarf who says: ‘Good for all, evil for all.’ — Zarathustra
See the World Through Googly Eyes
Googly eyes are the symbol of lightness in the film. They are the inverse of the bagel — black encircled by white, instead of the other way around. And the googly eyes represent Waymond’s approach to life.
All that symbolism is fitting because Waymond’s response to the Spirit of Heaviness is the opposite of Jobu’s. She wants to dive into the bagel. Waymond wants to put googly eyes on the dwarf.
Waymond is certain that everything will work out. He appeases others and lets them decide what’s important. And he acts as if everything is light and easy. Jobu is certain that, even though she can do anything, she could never fix how she feels. She turns people’s heads into confetti-poppers for pleasure. And she acts as if there’s no way to bear the weight of existence.
Here’s where Evelyn comes in — our main character and the conduit for the film’s resolution. Like Zarathustra, her journey starts from heaviness. Evelyn’s life is too heavy at first, then too light, then just right (corresponding to the three parts of the film: “Everything,” “Everywhere,” and “All at Once”).
Throughout EEAAO, Evelyn’s progression is marked by how she perceives Waymond. The more she accepts and understands him, the lighter her laundromat-life becomes.
At the start, Evelyn is apathetic toward her marriage and is more concerned with the burdens of the laundromat and her father’s expectations. Everything is heavy, and she (seemingly) has no freedom. Once Evelyn goes fully omniversal, though, she nearly falls into the same worldview as Jobu: nihilism. It’s Waymond’s compassion and optimism that puts air under her wings.
But Waymond’s way is not the answer. It’s just part of it — the part that Evelyn is missing. Waymond is too weak; he never faces the Spirit of Heaviness. His lightness is powerful, but it’s borne from ignorance.
The film suggests Evelyn’s way, which is similar to how Zarathustra responds to the Spirit of Heaviness. Evelyn’s way is a beautiful composite of what she learns from Jobu and Waymond. Jobu shows Evelyn the meaninglessness of existence, and Waymond shows her how to love life despite the Spirit of Heaviness.
Climax and Conception
Once we accept that nothing inherently matters, we unlock the freedom to decide what matters — the freedom to imbue life with meaning and value. This is how both the Daniels and Nietzsche respond to the Spirit of Heaviness: by accepting it.
The climax of the film is literal — a montage of ecstasy. Evelyn dons a googly eye and disarms her foes with compassion and pleasure. Rocks fall, planets collide, hot dogs go inside mouths, and Evelyn embraces Joy. At the climax, the light and heavy combine; Evelyn integrates the Spirit of Heaviness.
In the first part of EEAAO, “Everything,” Evelyn must care about the laundromat because it’s all she has. She is stuck in that reality, anxious about her financial and familial duties. It is a heavy, involuntary burden: “Everything is a battle here,” she says. But, by the end, that same laundromat-life is something that Evelyn chooses to live.
By loving life for what is and accepting the Spirit of Heaviness, Evelyn unlocks the freedom to live how she wants. She chooses to give her full attention to one of an infinite number of universes and to make that life the best it can be.
Zarathustra would say that to find meaning in life, you must learn to love yourself as you are, even in the face of the Eternal Recurrence (or the Infinite Occurrence).
And verily, this is no commandment for today and tomorrow, to learn to love oneself. Rather, of all arts this is the most subtle, cunning, ultimate, and most patient. — Zarathustra
Thirty years after writing Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche revisited this idea and gave it a name: “amor fati,” meaning “a love of fate.”
My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. — Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals
In Everything Everywhere All at Once, amor fati means learning to love your reality, rather than longing for all the lives you could have lived. And, like the lyrics of “Let Her Go” or the greener-grass fallacy will tell you, sometimes the most beautiful and meaningful things are what you already have and have overlooked.
For all that is one’s own is well hidden from its owner; and of all treasure hoards it is one’s own that is excavated last– thus the Spirit of Heaviness brings it about. — Zarathustra
In another life, I really would have liked just doing laundry and taxes with you. — Waymond
It is only with the seed of freedom that one can conceive meaning. Freedom comes from a love of fate: amor fati. And meaning comes from pursuing a purpose you’ve freely chosen, even if it’s doing laundry and taxes.
Both Nietzsche and the Daniels offer the same solution to nihilism: accept meaninglessness, and create meaning. We can’t just surrender to a world-eating bagel or stick googly eyes on things to make life lighter. We must find harmony among the light and heavy. We must look through googly eyes and stare and smile — laugh! — arm in arm with the Spirit of Heaviness.
- Everything Everywhere All at Once — Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
- Thus Spoke Zarathustra — Friedrich Nietzsche
- On the Genealogy of Morals — Friedrich Nietzsche