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What Everything Everywhere All at Once gets right about ADHD

What Everything Everywhere All at Once gets right about ADHD

“Everything, Everywhere, All At Once” has taken the film industry by storm with its captivating exploration of parallel worlds, capturing two Golden Globes, five Critic Choice honors, and four Screen Actors Guild trophies. The film’s impressive journey culminates on March 12 at the Academy Awards, where it stands nominated for 11 different awards, including best picture.

The movie follows protagonist, Evelyn, after she gains the ability to travel to alternate universes and experience the parallel lives she could have lived had she made different decisions in her own life. Evelyn’s journey through various parallel universes is not just a playful exploration of different realities, but a powerful representation of how the experience of ADHD can feel like living in multiple worlds at once.

In earlier drafts of the film, co-writers/directors Daniel Kwan and Dan Scheinert had written the protagonist Evelyn as having undiagnosed inattentive ADHD, like so many adults do. Though it was ultimately cut from the film out of fear of appearing insensitive, the amount of research that Kwan conducted on ADHD led him to discover that he was among those adults. He went to therapy, got diagnosed, and now credits this film for changing his life.

Although the decision was ultimately made to not outright mention ADHD, it left an undeniable impact on the entire film. The goal was always to write something about overwhelming chaos in life, but the multiverse plot stemmed from the idea, as co-director Dan Scheinert put it, that Evelyn was “so distractible, she can go to other universes with her brain.

It’s unsurprising that they were concerned about being insensitive with a logline like that, and the ADHD narrative was cut from the film. However, its influence was there from the start. Kwan told NPR that “Even without trying to put in ADHD, this movie was going to be infused with it from the very beginning. The DNA of it was all going to be there.” 

The whole premise of cycling between different worlds and realities, flipping back and forth between them, is a very accurate depiction of what it’s like to struggle with ADHD. It’s not that you can’t pay attention to anything, it’s that you have too much to pay attention to going on inside your head, all at once.

When your brain is everywhere, you are never fully present in the moment without being inundated by rogue thoughts. There are also secondary elements in the movie that make sense once you know it’s based on ADHD. Evelyn’s side businesses, like singing and cooking, which got her in trouble with the IRS in the first place, appear less like hobbies and more like hyperfixations. Joy’s decision to drop out of college makes more sense as well – having ADHD in a rigorous setting like college can be quite brutal. In the context of ADHD, “Everything Everywhere All At Once” starts to make sense not just as a bizarre trip through the multiverse but as a powerful expression of how the ADHD mind functions. 


Kwan does this by drawing on his own personal experiences to depict what living with ADHD is like. Some of those lived experiences are reflected in the contentious relationship between Joy and Evelyn. When Evelyn confesses in the movie that she prayed her daughter wouldn’t become a mess like her, the character is speaking directly from inspiration in Kwan’s real life. Growing up, his mother would advise him, surrounded by stacks of paperwork and receipts, “Don’t become like me because it’s really hard to exist as an adult like this.” It’s not unusual for ADHD adults to struggle with the mundane, boring tasks that are synonymous with adulthood. This is why Kwan set the story in a laundromat and the IRS. Creative decisions like these are how you know someone with ADHD wrote the film.

In all that it gets right about ADHD, what it ultimately got wrong was the decision to remove any direct mention of ADHD from the film. The markers were all there, but by not addressing it, there was a chunk of context ripped from the plot – a missed opportunity. 

The list of films that have depicted ADHD and explicitly mentioned it is decidedly short if “Percy Jackson” is at the top. Historically, specific characters, like Dory from “Finding Nemo”, have been ‘coded’ as ADHD. However, it’s left to consumers to make that connection.

The significance of ADHD adults identifying with characters as representation diminishes if the message about what ADHD looks like doesn’t reach the viewers who don’t have the condition.

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Avoiding the topic of ADHD in a film out of ‘sensitivity’ doesn’t do anyone any favors, especially not when the writer telling the story knows what they’re talking about and can tell that story with respect. It’s time to write interesting, multifaceted characters who have ADHD.

What sets “Everything Everywhere All At Once” apart from other films that merely allude to a character being inattentive or hyperactive, is that it takes you directly inside the head of someone who has ADHD. 

This unique perspective sparks an important conversation about mental health and neurodiversity in mainstream media, making “Everything Everywhere All At Once” not only a cinematic masterpiece but a cultural milestone.

Whether you see the shifting universes as a broader societal metaphor or simply a fun ride through the multiverse, the film conveys the message that the ADHD mind is always moving and that it’s never in one place at a time.

If you didn’t catch that the first time, watch the movie again, and maybe you’ll get a better idea of what it’s like to have ADHD and really be “Everything, Everywhere, All at Once.”

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