The science fiction film Everything Everywhere All At Once dominated Sunday night’s Academy Awards with seven victories, including the coveted Best Picture. The movie stars Michelle Yeoh as Evelyn Wang, a laundromat owner trying to pay her taxes.
It’s a grounded premise, but the film is actually one of the wildest of the year. In it, Evelyn learns early on that—to prevent a multiversal apocalypse—she must connect with different versions of herself from parallel dimensions.
The Best Picture winner isn’t alone in imagining the concept of a multiverse for the silver screen—parallel universes have also been a central plot point in recent Marvel movies and television shows. (Though, Everything Everywhere All At Once is the only one with a parallel universe in which people have hot dog-like fingers, or where people’s consciousnesses are trapped inside rocks with googly eyes.)
Evelyn’s escapades are fantastical and fictional, of course, but the multiverse might not be. Scientists today actually grapple with the idea that more universes than the one we live in may exist.
The concept of a multiverse arises from a couple of scientific theories, writes National Geographic’s Nadia Drake. One stems from the idea of cosmic inflation, which states that the universe expanded exponentially shortly after the Big Bang. If this rapid expansion happened repeatedly, the theory says, it could have resulted in an infinite number of other universes. These hypothetical universes, like separate bubbles in space, might have their own laws of physics and occasionally bump into each other.
Scientists have tried searching for evidence of such collisions in the cosmic microwave background, the distant light released shortly after the Big Bang, writes the Washington Post’s Carolyn Y. Johnson.
The idea pops up again in quantum mechanics, a field based in part on the notion that quantum particles exist in every possible state until they are measured. In the “many-worlds interpretation,” every time an experiment takes place, the universe branches into a number of new realities that contain all the possible outcomes of the experiment.
This theory means that all events could have parallel outcomes in other universes. In other words, for every action you take, a different version of you might be experiencing the option that you did not choose.
“I actually try to think, when I get a parking ticket, ‘Hey, there’s another version of a parallel universe where I didn’t get ticketed,’ so I can feel a bit better. And there’s another version where my car got towed,” Max Tegmark, a physicist at MIT, tells the Post.
So far, though, scientists have no concrete evidence that other universes exist, nor any ways to find them, noted the New York Times’ Dennis Overbye last April.
The multiverse “doesn’t really have a mathematical basis—it is a collection of ideas,” Geraint Lewis, a cosmologist at the University of Sydney in Australia, says to Forbes’ Jamie Carter. “In the cycle of science it remains at the hypothesis stage and needs to become a robust proposition before we can truly understand the consequences.”
The characters in Everything Everywhere All At Once are able to do something we probably won’t ever do, even if the multiverse does exist: reach across the boundaries between universes. In the film, characters tap into the minds and experiences of other versions of themselves by performing some weird and random action, like eating chapstick or peeing in their pants. In doing so, they take on the abilities of their other selves. Evelyn “verse jumps” into the mind of another Evelyn who works as a sign spinner outside a pizza store, for example, then uses those spinning talents in her own universe to twirl a riot shield and ward off interdimensional attackers.
The movie’s not just about traveling between universes, though. Co-writers and co-directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert told a sci-fi story, but it’s one that’s rooted in real-world themes surrounding an immigrant family, relationships between mothers and daughters and grappling with our own expectations for our lives.