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All of Us Strangers

Gentle queer romance descends into elaborate trip down memory lane, as British filmmaker Andrew Haigh blurs the lines between the physical, the imaginary and the supernatural - on VoD on Monday, April 8th

As the handsome and inebriated Harry (Paul Mescal) seeks to distract himself from his tormenting inner demons, with half bottle of whiskey in hand, he decides to knock on Adam’s (Andrew Scott) door, the only other resident of a London new build. Adam politely rebuffs his clumsy if endearing come-on, not wishing to puncture the isolatory funk in which he’s incaved himself. The mysterious circumstance of why it’s just two of them in this shiny modern complex is a precursor to the narratively increasing metaphysical quality that will eventually envelope the whole film. Before he exits, Harry poignantly asks ‘How do you cope?’, referring to the ubiquitous silence of the empty building. For Adam the question strikes a chord on many registers.

Loosely based on the 1987 novel Strangers by Taichi Yamada, All of Us Strangers is the story of Adam, in his 40s, a scriptwriter living a lonely existence working and living at home with an inability to connect with others. His life is marked by the tragic death of his parents, killed in a car accident just before his 12th birthday. The day after his encounter with Harry, in an elaborate trip down memory lane he makes his way to his suburban childhood home in Croydon. Finding himself at his local park, a place which initially gives the impression of a cruising spot, enhanced by the presence of an attractive moustached man in a leather jacket signalling him into the bushes. Adam follows him into an unexpected opening and upon close inspection it is revealed the man is his dad (Jamie Bell) looking just like before he died. A subtle and playful use of a gay trope nods to Haigh’s signature understated directorial approach.

We are transported to his family home where he meets his mum (Claire Foy). Both parents younger than Adam is now. The house exactly like it was in 1987. The supernatural transition is smooth, with no exposition, prompting you to suspend belief. In retrospect, Adam’s visions or more aptly a revisiting of past trauma, could be seen as a product of a midlife crisis or conceivably a form of therapy. Haigh’s gaze is soft and tender fully comprehending his characters’ psychological machinations usually underpinned by a sense of melancholy, think Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years (2015) or the intimate yet fated romance of the gay couple in Weekend (2011). Coupled with an ethereal and naturalistic blush, by cinematographer Jamie D. Ramsay (Moffie, 2019) which balances a hypnagogic dream-like state with a sense of realism.

These visitations become a regular thing, like an immersive flashback. His parents appear to only exist when he visits and within the context of them knowing of their passing. Each one is an imagining of conversations never had, filling in the gaps of Adam’s existence throughout the decades, albeit from the perspective of an adult looking back.. The thorny issue of his sexuality comes up when questioned about his marital status and surprisingly more to the chagrin of his mother- it is suggested that his father had an inclination from a bullying incident at school. Her narrow-mindedness reflects the country’s overall homophobic sentiment at the time.

Amidst the backdrop of the Aids epidemic and the implementation of the sadistic Thatcherite Section 28 policy. A realistically awkward interaction sees her spout rather predictable prejudiced assertions. A suggestion that he will lead a lonely life as a gay man, touches a nerve. Yet his loneliness isn’t solely attributed to his gayness, at least as an adult, it’s an overall disengagement deriving from a myriad of reasons of which we are not told, but one is certainly contributed to his parent’s death.

Parallel to this – what we would at first assume is reality – a relationship between Harry and Adam blossoms, bolstered by a newfound sense of security and footing from having his parents around, opening him up to new experiences and the possibility of love. Their dalliance is incredibly sweet and honest, with sex scenes that are equal parts arousing as they are tender. Harry is in his 20s, but the age gap isn’t as apparent, matching Adam in intellect and self-awareness. One would have hoped that he would have grown-up at time of more societal inclusion and yet Adam’s feelings of exclusion are mirrored within him. Yet unlike the reclusive Adam, he’s overly confident and sex positive, distracting himself by the pursuit of fun.

We get a gist of Harry but not the full picture, almost as if the character is underdeveloped. This vagueness is partially explained in the film’s downbeat denouement as lines of this relationship are also eventually blurred, purposively making you question whether the whole of All of Us Strangers is a stream of Adam’s conscious. And ultimately does it matter in a film as striking and engrossing as this? Are the narratives that play out in our heads not equally important as the ones played out in the physical world?

Pervasive pop psychology doctrines us to get over things, deluding us with the unattainable concept of letting go. Adam, like many of us, is an example of how past trauma doesn’t just disappear or is overcome, but instead lingers on, imprints our being, shaping our thinking and our behaviours, likely for the rest our lives.

All Of Us Strangers premiered at the 67th BFI London Film Festival. Showing at the Screen International Critics’ Choice at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival. It’s in cinemas on Friday, January 26th. On all major VoD platforms on Monday, April 8th.

By Daniel Theophanous - 16-10-2023

Daniel has contributed to publications such as Little White Lies, BFI, Tape Collective, Hyperallergic, DMovies and many others. A lot of Daniel’s work is focused on LGBTQI+ cinema and hosts a podcas...

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