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Longing for the multiverse

  • 02 June 2022
One of the punchlines in the film Everything Everywhere All at Once is that Michelle Yeoh’s character, Evelyn Wang is the worst version of all possible Evelyns who exist in the multiverse. She is an ageing Chinese immigrant who runs a laundromat and is about to be audited by the IRS. In other universes, she’s an actress, a singer, a martial arts pro, hibachi chef, even a roadside sign-twirler.  

The multiverse is having a revival in film and literature. Marvel plunged headfirst into an exploration of the multiverse in their Avengers and Spiderman franchises. Dr Strange and the Multiverse of Madness was released last month in Australia and WandaVision on Disney both toying with the multiverse idea.

When I was in the throes of new-born delirium, I listened to The Midnight Library by Matt Haig on audiobook. The story follows Nora Seed, who’s on the verge of ending her life. She lands in a liminal space, the ‘Midnight Library’ where every book is a different life, the result of each decision she’s ever made. On opening a book, she dives into that life, for a time and experiences alternate versions of herself. It turns out there are other ‘sliders’ caught between life and death. Nora meets one of these people, Hugo who’s lived over 300 lives. ‘There will never be a life I truly want to live forever. I get too curious,’ he says.

At a time when a second baby meant my own choices were fading into the background, I thought a lot about Nora and her life-jumping. What if I’d had kids later? What if I’d finished that degree? What if I’d taken that job? What if, what if, what if… The multiverse casts a web of different lives, all endlessly diverging like branches from a tree. 

Just how fractured is our present reality that this dream-making of alternate worlds is so appealing, so now? A clue might lie in the 2011 arthouse film Another Earth, which manages to pull off one of the most soulful executions of the multiverse idea. Brit Marling plays Rhoda Williams, a woman consumed by regret after killing a pregnant woman and her son while drink-driving. Reports unfold about the discovery of ‘another earth’, Earth 2, where your ‘replicate’ lives. Rhoda’s anxiety causes her to dream of her alternate self, where she’d made different choices.  

'We’re told we’re the centre of the universe, we