The Message of the Trickster

July 30, 2023

The Message of the Trickster

Everything Everywhere…

All At Once (as sung by the great Whitney Houston)
Okay, that’s just me being clever.

Here’s David Bowie being wise:

“We live within this manifested idea of what should be form, and what we try and keep out of our existence is chaos, which is a very real part of our lives, and our refusal to accept chaos as being integral to our existence, I think has been one of the greatest mistakes as a civilization that we’ve made.


…The idea of holding onto anything that’s manifested seems farcical. There is nothing to hold onto. Youth, physical things, or possessions . . . definitely possessions.”
“The 20th century concern is how we put our new god back together again. I think that we’re coming into an era of chaos, and chaos has meaning in our lives and I think that we have to re-adapt our interpretation of religion and spirituality to suit our new millennium.”
“Chaos and fragmentation is something that I’ve always been very comfortable with. That obviously is my through-line.”
—David Bowie

And just lettin’ you know…


The Message of The Trickster

What I’m about to share amounts to a philosophical approach, one built on observations of popular culture, folklore, art, mythology, and a bit of psychology.

It’s a philosophy bent on imagining a better world. Trickster opens the portal to possibilities: of societal (r)evolution, of the political implications of tricking power into performing acts of love.

It’s a philosophy of understanding the Trickster and Trickster’s place in our psyche alongside all the other archetypes—the Warrior, Child, Caretaker, Magician, Artist, Fool, Lover, Jester, Clown, Everyman, Mother, Father, Hero, Idealist, Shadow, Ruler, Creator, Innocent, Outlaw, Explorer, Shapeshifter, Sage.

The message of the Trickster, Trickster’s contribution to our psyche, our consciousness, is not one of moral precepts, excepting the basics of having fun, of loving, and of being antiwar. It asks the question of how morals come to be, and we benefit from the  story cycles of  Tricksters, who stumble on their journey from moral indeterminacy to moral discovery.

* * * * * * * *

Spoiler alert! Everything Everywhere All at Once was released in March of 2022. This alert expires in March of 2024, cause if you haven’t seen it by then, take a cue from Frank Zappa, who famously uttered . . . Suzy Creamcheese…what’s got into ya?

* * * * * * * *

The film Everything Everywhere All at Once explores multiple dimensions in more ways than we can even count. The brilliance of the movie comes in part from how well it dances with the cliches and tropes of the science fiction/superhero/fantasy genres without succumbing to the thud of predictable plots that plague so many of those films.

So it’s a Trickster movie, as it plays the game of a genre film while at the same time playing WITH that game—and transgresses, breaks the rules of that game. Is it a comedy or a family drama? Is it science fiction or is it fantasy? You gonna laugh or you gonna cry? or both? Are these people wonderful or are they terrible? Does it take the multiverse concept seriously, or does it satirize it?

None of the characters are particularly trickster-like. To the film’s great credit, Trickster is more a spirit that hovers over the story. Trickster is the world in which the film occurs, the air that the characters breathe, the tricks that the multiverse plays, and this makes it important to our world.

What do I mean by that? That, like Mr. Bowie advises, we must come to terms with chaos. And Tricksters of all stripes, regularly and correctly accused of not taking anything seriously—are our best-suited guides to navigating stumbling through chaos.

For example, Bugs Bunny.

As we watch these earnest characters of Everything Everywhere, we still wonder, where’s the grounding, what’s the part that I’m supposed to take seriously? For most, perhaps the entire film, that part would seem to be there, but just as you think you’ve grasped it, I get how there’s this amazing world-building assortment of alternate universes…and then, you don’t!…oh, and in one of them, people have hot dog fingers? Much like the transience of playfulness itself, that slippery, elusive quality is the recurring trick in the movie. It’s those punchlines, that teasing of the sci-fi/superhero/fantasy genres that make it satire.

Trickster consciousness.

Trickster consciousness is a world of fun, where nothing gets taken seriously for long. Yet the trickster’s journey is a stumble from moral indeterminacy to moral discovery, and Everything Everywhere… ultimately resolves: Love through family can help heal the world of violence and war. But it’s the playful Trickster spirit that takes the characters on that journey.

A great example of this is the stereotypical, climatic battle between the forces of good and evil. The tensions in the mother/daughter relationship extrapolate the adolescent perspective of the daughter Joy/Jobu (Stephanie Hsu) into a good versus bad struggle. As Jobu, she represents the villainy of nihilism—nothing matters so let’s destroy the universe. And Mom Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) is struggling to be good and accepting of her daughter’s lesbian love life, and to find a way to connect with her.

For this ultimate battle, Hollywood would typically wheel out the CGI armies and fantasy weapons and do the kapow explosion thing. Everything Everyhere’s satiric takedown of this gimmick aptly demonstrates the Trickster’s ability to trick power into performing acts of love. To not fight power with power, but to confound violence and conflict by fighting force with love…and tricks!

The husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), in his many identities, is perceived as weak, but he is simply a peace-seeker. He oscillates between his identity as the owner of a laundromat and as the CEO of a very successful business. Two monologues are interspersed in a soliloquy that is prelude to the ultimate mother/daughter struggle. As a martial arts battle between Evelyn and Jobu’s little band of nasty folks begins, Waymond pleads with Evelyn to not fight. Yet the so-called battle ensues.

Deirdre Beaubeirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis) attacks Evelyn, not with a lightsaber, but with the blade of a common office supply, a paper cutter. Hilarious. But before it can strike her neck, Evelyn blocks Deirdre’s arm with her feet and reminds her that she is not unlovable, then uses a martial arts move to get close and give her a nice, big hug. Meanwhile, Jobu continues to head into the universe-destroying void, the Everything Bagel. Her minions shoot at Evelyn who stops a bullet before it hits her forehead, and transforms it into a googly eye. All the bullets are turned into googly eyes and slapped onto all the faces.

An Everything Bagel.

“So stupid” cries out grandfather Gong Gong (James Hong). The google eyes riff off of antiwar demonstrators putting daisies in gun barrels.

Evelyn’s dodging weapons and learning to fight with tricks and love. She turns two attackers heading for her into embracing lovers and transforms them into a bride and groom. The hand grenade about to be hurled at her she turns into a perfume vial, with a scent that makes the attacking soldier remember his beloved wife. Response to another attacker becomes a chiropractic adjustment. Yet another is fended off by giving him the BDSM treatment he secretly sought.

The interwoven homage to the children’s film Ratatouille [Raccaccoonie] I can’t quite explain here, but it also transforms violence into humor. And with this last gesture, all the fighters are rendered lovable, so that Evelyn can get to Joy, now in “real” life (and also the clown version of her)…retrieve her, pull her back from the void, with love, with defensive kung fu that turns all attacks into loving embrace. And so the defeat is not of some adversary, but the defeat of fighting, of power, and of conflict itself, as the mother and daughter reclaim their love. “Nothing matters” is transformed from a declaration of suicidal nihilism into a triumph of freedom, of liberation, of having tricked power into performing acts of love.


Has Bowie’s prescient wisdom finally seeped into our consciousness, our collective psyche? Here’s a closing quote:

“…I’ve always felt that there’s no real central one truth in life, that the way we live is trying to make sense of the endless vortex of fragments. That essentially we try and pull these weedy little truths and absolutes out of this kind of mindless chaos, which is the real universe.

There’s something about the nineties that I really like. There’s something in the air that I recognize. I think it’s all the fragments flying around in the chaos. It feels really… I kind of… I know this stuff.”


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