As someone who lost their father at a young age, and therefore never had the conversation regarding my sexuality (and all that could possibly entail), the thought process throughout and inability to hold back my emotions during All of Us Strangers was palpable.
Adapted by writer/director Andrew Haigh (Looking: The Movie) from Japanese author Taichi Yamada‘s novel “Strangers”, this striking, beautiful, unfairly tragic film is a haunting lullaby that may speak to a certain audience specifically and profoundly, but should prove universally affecting all the same.
In an eerily vacant apartment building, Adam (a superb Andrew Scott), a lonely writer, seems almost too-comfortable existing in the emptiness. The only other person in this seeming void is Harry (Paul Mescal, sublime), effortlessly sexy but equally as lost, who takes it upon himself to dryly seduce Adam with a wounded charm that Adam appreciates, but ultimately declines.
Adam’s fear of intimacy stems from both the trauma of losing his parents at age 12 and surviving the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s, where sex could so often equal death. Keeping Harry at a distance makes all the more sense, but when he travels out of London to the suburbs and catches the eye of Jamie Bell‘s unnamed man, there’s a brief shift in a sexual suggestion with the two eyeing each other off in a manner that alludes to a public cruising.
Bizarrely, Bell then converses with Adam as his father. It seems impossible for Adam’s father to be alive and of the same age at which he passed, but this meeting soon starts to make sense in the realm of the emotional reality Haigh has created, where both Adam’s father and mother (a heartbreaking Claire Foy) are alive and aware of the fractured time in which they appear.
The idea that anyone who has lost a loved one could steal extra time with them is one of deep emotionality, and Adam utilises these unexplained moments to catch his parents up on all they’ve missed. His mother worries he’ll lead “a lonely life” as she learns of his homosexuality, and in coming out it pushes he and his father to break through the masculine walls of why a young Adam was left to cry alone in his room; his father’s admission toeing the line between brutal and poignant.
In opening his parents up to his way of life, in return it helps him invite Harry into his fold. The sequences shared between the two are beautiful in all their delicacy and simplicity, but there’s always the lingering sense that their ground will be shattered as Adam’s realities threaten to blend.
Comforting as much as it is distressing, All of Us Strangers is ultimately a film that needs to be experienced and uncovered. The dance that Adam and Harry perform throughout should resonate with anyone who longs to be held and understood, but can’t break past their own fear of intimacy. It’s all the words left unspoken. All the answers never received, or the ones you may not want to hear.
As the Pet Shop Boys’ cover of “Always On My Mind” plays, the poetry of such lyrics rings true for a film that frames an honest portrait of sexuality and, despite toying with the “bury your gays” temperament, shines in a ghostly light that achingly shimmers.
FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
All of Us Strangers is screening as part of this year’s Brisbane International Film Festival, running between October 26th and November 5th, 2023. The film is scheduled for a national release on January 18th, 2024.