Intimacy and loss are two themes that, depending on how they’re handled, can be the make or break between a film that will barely cut skin deep and one that will linger long after the credits roll. Andrew Haigh’s All of Us Strangers falls firmly in the latter, as a profoundly devastating and tear jerking examination of how our memories can forever have an aching hold over us.
We meet our pratognist Adam (Andrew Scott), a queer man struggling to write his next screenplay, in his apartment located in a brand new complex. His inspiration and the centre of his writers block comes from a place of loss, following his parents death in a car accident when he was 12. It feels as though he’s the only person living in this fancy towering high rise when a fire alarm distracts his usual pattern of watching crappy telly and eating days old takeout, in which he meets fellow neighbour Harry (Paul Mescal) who is banging relentlessly on his door. There’s a level of uneasy intensity followed by obvious sexual yearning during their first meeting. Opening up to people is hard, but eventually Adam sets his fears aside and a love story between himself and Harry grips us to our emotional cores.
While love is a heavy theme within the film, which is based on Taichi Yamada’s 1987 novel Strangers, it’s grief that’s under the microscope here. Loss can be both felt and interpreted in numerous ways: through death, the ending of a relationship and friendship, or even loneliness and the longing to revisit out youth. Adam takes his inspiration from his parents’ death to visit his childhood home, where, against all odds, he reunites with them (portrayed by Claire Foy and Jamie Bell). They begin catching up on all the experiences they missed out on over the years. From Adam’s perspective he’s able to lean into his grief while also opening up about his sexuality and society’s acceptance – something his parents question. Adam’s opening up allows a dual plot to take place, one where exploring his grief is explored via different routes.
Haigh’s deep dive into grief is soul crushing. A haunting look into how trauma can truly dictate our lives. Some may argue that Mescal’s presence within the film enables this films narrative to be likened to his performance in Charlotte Well’s Aftersun. But though there are similarities, in comparison to Aftersun’s journey of understanding a loss of a parent, All of Us Strangers paints a picture on how grief can leave a long lasting cloud over one’s life, a longing for our parents to know us, to be there for the hardships. Grief also opens the door to the exploration into the loneliness side of things. Haigh’s music choices enabled this specific theme to stand out. For example, the use of Pet Shop Boy’s Always on my Mind and the lyric – “Maybe I didn’t hold you, all those lonely, lonely times’. It’s an interesting yet well-thought way to incorporate such references whether intentional or not. Music has its own way of being our own comfort blankets and in the film with the use of records enables Adam to feel true emotions whilst experiencing them.
With only four performances throughout the entirety of the film, each performance provides authenticity to its themes. For Mescal especially, a performance involving such intimacy and realness is nothing new following his previous role in Sally Rooney’s Normal People. Scott and Mescal together are standouts, mainly due to their complimenting chemistry. Their performances as both Adam and Harry are organic, but a stunning reflection of both characters individual struggles. In addition, Scott’s work with both Foy and Bell generates some tearful moments. There’s moments for those experience grief and those audience members who are fearful of the day their parents are gone. Everyday grief can be felt and Scott along with Haigh’s screenplay perfectly acknowedlge the theme from every perspective.
All of Us Strangers is intimate, but immensely mighty, getting straight to the point of grief and how one can open up about its effect. Everyone can take something away from it, whether they’re personally affected by the film’s central love story, or have felt the dread of losing a loved one. All of Us Strangers incorporates all of our fears regarding death, reminding us why we need to keep our loved ones as close to our hearts as humanely possible.