Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert knew they needed to give audiences a break. The writer-directors of Everything Everywhere All at Once had dragged Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) through dozens of surreal and silly universes at breakneck speed, and she—and viewers—needed a moment to breathe. “So we just invented the most low-stimulation universe we could,” says Scheinert.
But the Rock Universe—in which Evelyn and her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) are, yes, rocks—also serves as the first moment that the two characters really connect, bonding over the nihilistic idea that, in the end, nothing really matters. It was a scene the Daniels were unsure about from the start (“It’s objectively bad screenwriting. There’s no subtext, which is hilarious,” says Kwan) but ended up being one of their favorite moments. “We’re so proud of it now,” says Scheinert, “but if you had asked us three years ago, this would’ve been the last scene we would’ve suggested putting in Vanity Fair.”
Kwan was inspired, in part, by a heated argument with an ex-girlfriend, who told him that she wanted to be a rock because rocks can’t feel anything. “I remember being 16 years old and being like, ‘What the fuck?’ But it’s always stuck with me.”
In the original script, the scene is set in a field, but cinematographer Larkin Seiple pushed for this canyon in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park near San Diego—where he had proposed to his girlfriend.
BORING OR BRAVE?
“We always second-guessed this scene,” says Scheinert. “We were like, ‘Can you just say this? Can you just put a monologue and have our characters summarize human thought over the last several millennia?’ That’s pretty boring.”
The Daniels weren’t sure if they would use voiceover or subtitles, but Yeoh was certain. “She was like, ‘Why are you doing this? It needs no dialogue. It’s a zen garden,’ ” says Scheinert. “The imagery in my head kind of shifted when she called it a zen garden.”
HA HA HA
There’s something “stupidly contagious” about the laughter, says Kwan. “When you watch it with an audience, you just hear different people laughing at the fact that the rocks are laughing, and then you start laughing about the fact that they’re laughing.”
THE BEGINNING OF THE END
The end of this scene is a “breaking point,” says Kwan, that pushes toward the film’s finale. “They’re reacting to the idea that nothing matters in two completely different ways,” he says.