How physics inspired Oscar nominee ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’

The mind-bending idea that our universe is one among many is gaining legitimacy in physics, and is central to the plot of “Everything Everywhere All At Once.” (iStock)
7 min

In at least one universe this Sunday evening — perhaps our own — the imaginative, absurdist, sci-fi comedy-drama “Everything Everywhere All at Once” will sweep the Oscars, shining Hollywood’s brightest spotlight on the mind-bending notion that our universe is just one in a kaleidoscopic array of others.

In the movie, a laundromat owner played by Michelle Yeoh jumps around the multiverse, flitting in and out of different parallel universes, each containing variations of her life. In one, she’s a glamorous movie star and kung fu master. In another, she has comically floppy hot-dog fingers. In yet another, she’s a sentient rock with googly eyes. It’s a fantastical plot device, but also an extended riff on a real idea in physics.

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The movie takes a lot of liberties with working theories — one physicist flatly said “the science was not there.” But the idea of a multiverse, once a fringe concept that physicists talked about in bars after conferences, has been gaining legitimacy in recent years and is firing serious scientific debate.

Questions about the multiverse quickly get philosophical, but here’s some of what scientists (think) we know.