In Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan’s wild, universe-hopping movie Everything Everywhere All At Once, a lot of the plot revolves around the branch points where people make their significant choices. Every decision creates a new timeline, and a new what-if world. The hefty companion artbook A Vast, Pointless Gyration of Radioactive Rocks and Gas in Which You Happen to Occur creates its own set of what-ifs — particularly in the script for a scene the Daniels cut from the film. The sequence suggests an entire alternate timeline for their movie, with entirely new characters and a radically different tone.
In this early version of the movie, Kwan tells Polygon, the Wang family — Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh), and her father, husband, and daughter — were briefly introduced at the beginning, before an unseen narrator took over the story. “It used to tie in more with the family,” Kwan says. “It started with a video of the family, and then the narrator would be like, ‘Anyways, let’s continue!’ and we leap into this other thing.”
“This whole other thing” is a sequence that feels like something out of Douglas Adams’ classic tongue-in-cheek sci-fi comedy The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy — particularly the radio-play version and the 1981 BBC TV version, which frame the story with narration from the titular hitchhiker’s guide.
The narrator in Everything Everywhere’s deleted scene starts out by introducing the story in cosmic terms: “Here we are, in this moment, at the beginning. And because most beginnings are also often endings, it would be wrong for me not to point out that we are also here, at the end. And because every moment would not be possible without the moment before it and is rendered unnecessary without the moment after it, we could say that the existence of everything that has happened and will happen hangs on the existence of this one moment. This is it. This is everything. Let us begin.”
The narrator goes on to introduce two men who illustrate the movie’s infinite-multiverse principles. The first, W.T. Warren, is a 20-something football-helmet tester in 1912 Pennsylvania. His job involves putting on the helmets and running headfirst into a farmhouse wall. When a quantum accident causes him to pass completely through the wall during one test — an unlikely event that’s bound to happen at least once in a universe of infinite possibilities — he gets drunk and decides God wants him to inspire people with miracles. So he confronts three armed robbers, who fatally stab him — though, as the narrator notes, in a small subset of universes, the knife passes through him as well, and he goes on to marry the love of his life, who he was trying to impress when he stood up to the thieves.
“And if you think all of this feels like a fundamental misunderstanding of how the world works, then I’m afraid your opinion of infinity, my friend, may be too small for this story,” the narrator says.
The scene continues with another character, a high-school football player in 1957. In a specific game, if he catches a specific football, he becomes a cult leader. If he misses it, he’s injured and becomes a lonely carpenter who’s only happy in universes where tables can talk. All this narration lays out the idea of a multiverse defined as much by accidents as by choice, but it all seems like a huge departure from the finished movie, which focuses in much more specifically on Evelyn and her family.
As Scheinert explains, he and Kwan discarded this scene from their original script fairly early. “I don’t think it was ever in a draft we sent to anyone,” he says. “It was like, draft zero-point-eight. Before we sent [the script] to any producers, we cut [this sequence], because the script was 255 pages long.”
Kwan and Scheinert say the narration was all meant to set up a specific alternate universe that also doesn’t appear in the final film. The narrator was meant to have what Kwan describes as “a very eloquent, maybe Southern voice.” “Someone like Susan Sarandon,” Scheinert adds. Eventually, as Evelyn is crossing into different multiverses, she’d enter one where her voice was provided by the narrator as well.
“So she would have the voice of Susan Sarandon,” Kwan says, “and you would realize, ‘Oh, in this universe, she was adopted by a white family who brought her over from Asia, and she grew up as an adoptee, and she has perfect English, and she became a writer.’ So that was one big, long part of the story.”
Scheinert says the entire framing concept was meant to equally evoke Douglas Adams and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia. But it also sprung from the Daniels’ admiration of Charlie Kaufman, the writer of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Being John Malkovich, and Synecdoche, New York.
“I think that’s one of the biggest tangents we went down,” Scheinert says. “We love Charlie Kaufman, and there was a very Kaufman-esque quality to the initial idea, which was like, ‘Let’s make a very accessible sci-fi action film that falls apart, because the multiverse is crazy.’ It took us a while to realize that we didn’t have to go postmodern to achieve that.”
Both Daniels say the movie’s entire concept was inherently so postmodern that it didn’t need recursive characters or framing. “It was in the fabric of it,” Scheinert says. “So we stripped a lot of that away. But we were playing with that for a long time, like, ‘Should we show up as characters in our own movie? Should the movie be a book being written by this alternate Evelyn?’ I’m glad we went down these tangents, because it helped us develop the themes, but these ideas weren’t necessary.”
A Vast, Pointless Gyration of Radioactive Rocks and Gas in Which You Happen to Occur is available from the A24 merch store. In addition to the deleted scene, it includes original art, short stories, an interview about the multiverse between the Daniels and “their favorite neuroscientist, David Eagleman,” and an essay by Carl Sagan’s daughter, author Sasha Sagan.