All of Us Strangers arrives in cinemas on January 26.
The older we get, the more we are surrounded by ghosts. These ghosts walk beside us, reminding us of the things we said and left unsaid, the friendships we embraced and the ones we let slip away, the people we loved unconditionally, and those we let down. But these ghosts are not physical manifestations or spectral beings; they are the memories we have forged through life, memories that surround our every interaction, our choices and our sense of self. Some of these memories are rooted in pain, others in joy and more than a few in regret. Often, the most powerful and challenging memories that linger an entire lifetime are those shaped by events and social attitudes outside our control, our emerging sense of self and our childhood experiences. Andrew Haigh’s All of Us Strangers, adapted from a 1987 novel by Taichi Yamada, is a film about the ghosts that walk by our side. It is a story about the eternal power of love, the darkest corners of loneliness, the fluidity of time, and the inter-generational gay experience; it is quite simply a masterpiece.
Adam (Andrew Scott) is a middle-aged gay man who lives in a new and largely empty London apartment block. As he sits surrounded by takeaway cartons watching old 80s pop videos, the twinkling lights of a city that never sleeps invade the apartment. Yet Adam sits on the city’s edge, his life on pause in a metropolis forever stuck on fast forward. Adam has never processed the death of his parents when he was a kid or his experiences growing up gay in a decade of oppression and fear. The 80s pop music videos playing in his apartment offer comfort, the tunes that spoke to him as a kid as his sense of self grew on a loop. But even these tunes now feel hollow as Adam decides it’s time to revisit his childhood home and finally lay to rest the ghosts of his past. As he returns to his old house in the suburbs, Adam is greeted by his father (Jamie Bell) and mum (Claire Foy), looking the same as they did when he was a child before the car accident that took them away from him.
Meanwhile, a few floors down from Adam’s apartment, Harry (Paul Mescal) is equally alone when he knocks at Adam’s door with a bottle of booze in hand, asking if Adam would like to join him for a drink. Adam has seen Harry before, and while initially turning down his offer, he slowly allows Harry into his world, with romance blossoming between two men who share a sense of loneliness and disconnect in a city that never sleeps.
From the opening scenes, All of Us Strangers carries an air of magic realism from the silence of the tower block Adam calls home to the sudden arrival of his parents in a childhood home held in a timeless bubble. Haigh has long been a master of psychologically informed character studies, from the American Odyssey of a boy searching for connection and belonging in Lean on Pete to the hidden secrets that silently eat away at a long marriage in 45 Years and the intersection between sex, honesty and a tentative love in Weekend. All of Us Strangers carries all the hallmarks of Haigh’s previous work as it explores what makes us the person we are and the baggage we carry on the long walk of life. But All of Us Strangers also feels deeply personal.
Haigh, like Adam, travelled back in time while filming All of Us Strangers as he opted to use his childhood home as a key location, and as a result, the film carries the deep sense of a director on his own healing journey. Anyone who grew up gay in the 80s and early 90s will understand the core emotional journey Haigh explores. Like Haigh, I recently returned to the places I walked as an uncertain and scared gay kid who was unsure of myself and my feelings in a country that told me I was dirty, damaged, and bound to die of AIDS. It was a healing journey that sparked memories I thought I had long since resigned to history. Like that journey, All of Us Strangers is a profoundly emotional experience as it encourages us to stop and listen to the ghosts that walk by our side and the power they hold over our sense of forward motion.
Paul Mescal and Andrew Scott in ALL OF US STRANGERS. Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2023 Searchlight Pictures All Rights Reserved.
With outstanding, deeply emotional and intimate performances from Scott, Bell, Foy and Mescal, All of Us Strangers is a film that no two people will experience the same way. Haigh frees our memories through celluloid and asks us to explore the foundations, experiences and connections that make us whole in a movie that opens doors to the past for each person watching. Five stars rarely feel inadequate when reviewing a film, but in the case of Haigh’s All of Us Strangers, they do. Haigh’s film holds a rare beauty and power as it wraps you in warmth, touches your soul, unlocks memories, encourages healing and bathes in the eternal power of love.
Five stars rarely feel inadequate when reviewing a film, but in the case of Haigh’s All of Us Strangers, they do. Haigh’s film holds a rare beauty and power as it wraps you in warmth, touches your soul, unlocks memories, encourages healing and bathes in the eternal power of love.