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All of Us Strangers

Released 2023. Director: Andrew Haigh

AS THE KID SAYS IN THE SIXTH SENSE, “I see dead people.” Sighting the departed, however, does not necessarily lead to a scary story. Some of the most memorable movies featuring ghosts have been tear-jerking romances or poignant dramas. In All of Us Strangers, Andrew Haigh adapts Taichi Yamada's novel and gives us a dreamlike and heartbreaking meditation on loss and loneliness, solace and love.

The man who will soon find that he sees his departed loved ones is Adam (Andrew Scott). He’s a scriptwriter and like many in this post-pandemic age, Adam works from home and all he needs it seems is a laptop. Home is a highrise on the outskirts of London, which commands an expansive view of the city skyline at dusk that cinematographer Jamie Ramsay deftly uses to set an appropriately mellow mood.

Adam, who appears morose and friendless, is not feeling productive in his work. The words are not flowing, which happens quite often if you ask anyone who writes on a daily basis. In these empty moments Adam also feels strangely drawn to the memory of his childhood home. So he takes a train to the suburbs to visit the house he used to live in decades ago. There to meet him are his mum and dad (Claire Foy and Jamie Bell) who don’t look anywhere near the age of what Adam’s parents should logically be. You’d soon figure out that somehow, Adam is meeting his parents at the age they died in a car crash when he was 12, and right now he’s actually older than his parents.

Sounds supernatural, yet at the same time everything feels super-normal. Parents and son are aware of the impossible nature of their reunion and embrace this opportunity to sit down and catch up. Adam slowly fills in the details over a few visits, staying overnight and even gets to decorate the Christmas tree one final time. They revisit memories and create new ones. Dad explains why he wasn’t there for Adam when the boy was being bullied. Mum pictures Adam’s girlfriend and is surprised, then concerned when Adam says he’s gay. There’s almost an ethereal beauty to the reunion scenes, a series of reassuring domesticity and cosy familiarity. Just like returning to your childhood home as an adult.

Back in his tower residence, Adam befriends a neighbour Harry (Paul Mescal). Although Adam declines Harry’s very obvious come-on at first, they proceed to become friends and lovers. In this strangely insular bachelor’s pad, the two men grow intimate physically, sharing a growing connection over time that heightens an overall sense of emotional thirst that characterises the movie.

The dreamy and wistful feel of All of Us Strangers staunchly resists being pinned down by the normal rules of reality or logic. If you attempt to analyse what you see rationally you’d only be resisting where the story wants to take you. The way I see it, the movie is a manifestation of the deepest wants, that aching need that drives someone to the edge.

Adam never had a chance to say goodbye to his parents. There’s an emptiness inside him that can only be filled with the warmth of family that’s been gone for most of his life. In a spooky but rather sweet way his parents have also been wondering how their boy has turned out, so they’ve been waiting for Adam to show. Harry, in a similar way, is adrift in a downward spiral, a stranger in his own family reaching out for a meaningful connection.

The isolation in each of these characters is apparent – the parents trapped in their own time, Adam in his own gloom bubble, and the devastating truth about Harry that is revealed at the end. Why Adam and Harry are the only two residents in a highrise tower could be taken as a sign they’re, shall we say, in a world detached from others. To say more would be telling.

All four characters are delicately written and sensitively portrayed by a cast that know how to deliver the poignancy in their stories without being sentimental or mawkish. In particular, Andrew Scott’s performance in communicating Adam’s vulnerability and existential angst is beautiful and deeply felt.

There’s an undeniable measure of sadness in All of Us Strangers. The spectre of death is front and centre and at any moment you feel that people are going to lose the ones they hold dear. The elegiac spectral that Haigh has created is equally haunting and melancholic, as the dead reminds us that we only have one chance at life, so live and love.

Click image above to view trailer. New window will open.


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