On the surface, All of Us Strangers sounds like a ghost story. But anyone who’s seen an Andrew Haigh film knows to expect something more complex. In his latest soulful character piece, Haigh once again explores the intimate connections and disconnections between people haunted by the past.
At the center is Andrew Scott’s Adam, a lonely screenwriter struggling to write about his parents who died tragically when he was young. Out of the blue, Adam returns to his childhood home to find his parents there, mysteriously still alive. But it’s not about cheap thrills – it’s about Adam getting the closure with his family he never had in life.
As Adam rebuilds bonds with his parents (played brilliantly by Claire Foy and Jamie Bell), he also kindles a tentative new romance with a neighbor named Harry (Paul Mescal, fresh off his heartwrenching turn in Aftersun). But Adam soon realizes no relationship, new or old, is free of complications.
Layered, melancholy and dreamlike, All of Us Strangers is less about ghosts than the living. It’s about the loneliness of feeling no one really knows you, even those closest to your heart. And it captures how the trauma of the past distorts the present, keeping us isolated and afraid.
Haigh once again assembles an outstanding ensemble to chart the bounds of intimacy. And just like life, connections emerge in unexpected ways, revealing that perhaps no one is ever truly a stranger when it comes to matters of family or the heart.
Reconnecting With Ghosts From the Past
Adam is adrift. Ensconced in his London apartment, the screenwriter tries vainly to write a script about his parents. But it’s clear his own past haunts him. His parents died tragically when Adam was just 12, leaving him lonely and unmoored ever since.
Looking for inspiration, Adam returns to his childhood suburb, only to make an impossible discovery – his parents, still young, alive and well back in their old home. Has Adam come unstuck in time? Or is his mind playing tricks, consumed by grief?
Whatever the cause, Adam embraces this supernatural chance to reconnect, having heartfelt conversations with his parents he never could when alive. Still grieving after all these years, Adam gets to explain his sexuality, detail the bullying he faced, and confront lingering questions about their untimely deaths.
Meanwhile in London, Adam strikes up a passionate new relationship with Harry, the lone other tenant in his building. Though isolation connects them, Harry is more carefree, helping coax Adam out of his shell. But each man soon realizes they harbor private wounds and self-doubts behind their confident exteriors.
As exotic nights out with Harry blur into nostalgic family dinners, the boundaries of reality soften for Adam. When his parents ask to meet Harry, worlds promisingly collide. But the comforts of an idyllic suburban past can’t resolve the complications of real adult relationships.
Layering supernatural family drama atop an intimate modern romance, All of Us Strangers explores how the unresolved pain of yesterday distorts the possibilities of today. But Haigh suggests hope lies in confronting that grief head-on. Only by reconciling with the ghosts of the past can Adam truly connect – whether with the memory of his parents or the promise of new love. Forgiveness – of others and oneself – may be the only way forward.
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Grappling With Ghosts, External and Internal
On one level, All of Us Strangers utilizes literal ghosts – Adam’s mysteriously resurrected parents – to explore grief and reconciliation. But the supernatural machinations run deeper. Haigh suggests the true ghosts that haunt Adam are internal – long-buried pain, misunderstandings, and regrets.
The trauma of his parents’ premature deaths left a void in Adam no new relationships could seem to fill. So when his parents reappear, Adam confronts that grief head-on. In sometimes painful conversations, he processes old wounds, from being bullied for his sexuality to never getting to come out to his parents. Haigh suggests such open dialogue has real power. Just being acknowledged and honestly seen by his parents brings catharsis to Adam.
Of course no matter how warm the reunion, the brutal facts of death remain. Adam’s peace is precarious, with his parents existing on borrowed time and confused why he dredges up such painful subjects. Haigh argues loss inevitably leaves loose ends that distort the present no matter how we try to square them.
This lingering grief parallels Adam’s lingering isolation. He keeps loved ones, like new boyfriend Harry, at arm’s length, afraid they can’t truly know him. Haigh explores how trauma traps us within ourselves. Though on the surface open and inviting, Harry hides plenty behind his own glib charm and smiles.
Here Haigh utilizes changing attitudes around queerness as a metaphor. Harry came of age in a more progressive era, while Adam’s psyche still bears older generations’ prejudices. Through uncomfortable but necessary dialogue, teacher becomes student as each man exposes internalized biases the other barely perceives.
Prying open such subtler ghosts proves harder than communing with the dead. When Adam’s parents balk at his relationship with Harry, he realizes that for all their talk, even loved ones from the past can’t fully embrace who we become.
Whether literal ghosts of family or the ghostly pains encoded in memory, the spectral presences that haunt All of Us Strangers stem ultimately from the same source – the human longing for intimate connection. However imperfectly, Adam’s supernatural encounters help him externalize inner turmoil kept silent for decades. Only then can healing happen – both for Adam and those closest in his orbit burned by proximity to that unspoken pain. For only by reconciling yesterday’s ghosts can we find peace with ourselves and others today.
Crafting Cinematic Reveries Between Worlds
All of Us Strangers demonstrates Andrew Haigh’s keen eye for visual poetry. With dreamy imagery and transportive sound design, he casts a melancholy spell, ushering Adam and the audience into a shimmering reverie suspended between worlds.
Haigh’s camerawork centers stillness and quietude even amidst supernatural happenings. He often frames characters through windows or reflections, suggesting a gauzy subjectivity to this ghostly realm. And frequent shots gazing out urban windows imply Adam’s loneliness and isolation from bustling life outside.
When the film shifts to the cozy bursts of color in Adam’s childhood home, the visual contrast is striking. Haigh shoots the suburban interiors almost exclusively in warm lamplight, giving the nostalgic glow of memory despite the fantastic premise. You can nearly smell mum’s hot dinners wafting from the kitchen.
Helping blur emotional and temporal boundaries, Haigh takes a fluid approach to his parallel settings. Hallway scenes repeat, with characters entering from different rooms and eras mid-conversation. The dimensional seams stitch together and unravel unpredictably.
Sound design assists through muffled transitions between decades. 80s pop songs Adam plays in London resurface faintly under his parents’ dialogue, only to surge back upon his return home. The effect places the viewer persuasively yet perturbingly out-of-time along with Adam.
Haigh also structures the film around potent recurring visual motifs that gather subconscious resonance. Gauzy bedsheets, glistening city towers, the neon blur of dance clubs – all allude to permeable veils between waking life and dreams. In the most surreal sequence, even an elevator mirror fractures Adam’s reflection, serving as metaphor for his fractured sense of self stuck shuttling between worlds.
By crafting such an immersive sensory experience both inviting and uncanny, Haigh places the viewer in Adam’s shoes. We inhabit his longing and confusion, suspended across ages by grief unresolved. These technical elements work not just in service of the premise but more profoundly to externalize Adam’s interior condition suspended by loss – an immaculate ghost displaced in time.
Performances That pierce Your Heart
What sets All of Us Strangers apart is the humanity its principal cast imbue in every scene. In haunted Adam, Andrew Scott locates an achingly familiar longing for connection. His eyes brim with equal parts grief, joy, and confusion upon reuniting with his impossible family, externalizing the timeless inner-contradictions of nostalgia.
As new flame Harry, Paul Mescal provides the perfect foil with insouciant charm barely concealing scars of his own. When he escorts a drunk Scott home early on, the care Mescal exhibits already hints at a tenderness beyond infatuation.
But the film revelation is Jamie Bell and Claire Foy as Adam’s parents. Trapped energetically in amber despite being ghosts, they relish playing mum and dad to a son now their contemporary. Bell’s easy warmth with Scott conveys enduring bonds even decades beyond the grace. And Foy locates humor and fussy affection that feels delightfully motherly.
Indeed, all four leads imbue thinly sketched characters with such compassion and dimensionality that conversations transcend the screen to feel achingly personal. When Adam first reveals his sexuality, Foy’s reaction shot blends incredulity with dawning empathy in wheels visibly turning behind her eyes.
In another standout scene, Bell embraces his son in the hallway, only to have Scott collapse into helpless tears in his arms. It’s a testament to their rapport that despite the melodrama on paper, the moment lands with heartbreaking intimacy onscreen.
Throughout, all four inhabit roles with utter conviction and immediacy, whether waxing philosophical about shifting cultural mores or busting guts laughing through mouthfuls of pancakes. That piercing authenticity makes the film’s dive into FINAL ACT SPOILERS feel less like cheap ploy than culmination of an emotional journey years in the making.
Of course the principal quartet aren’t alone. The ensemble across ages carries characters seamlessly through dimension and time, threading melancholy and hope. But at its core, All of Us Strangers derives its power from lead turns so vulnerable and unadorned, Haigh’s haunted reverie becomes our own. We emerge pondering not the mechanics of its ghosts but rather the resilience of human bonds in the face of those we’ve lost.
Therapeutic Catharsis…With A Supernatural Twist
In mining grief and reconciliation, All of Us Strangers has profound resonance for those struggling with the burdens of family history. By literally resurrecting Adam’s parents yet still finding misunderstandings that linger, Haigh argues that closure in relationships is usually imperfect. But through openness and vulnerability, genuine connection emerges – a lesson deeply therapeutic despite supernatural trappings.
Some may chafe at pat resolutions between generations, ghosts notwithstanding. But quibbles fade against such earnest intent in excavating universal feelings of regret and longing surrounding those we’ve lost prematurely. Haigh knows that deep stores of repressed words and wounds don’t resolve quickly or cleanly. Yet wonderful surprises and epiphanies bloom by airing that pain, however haltingly, with both spirits past and lovers present.
While avoiding crass sentimentality, these conversations unfold with such make-good heart that flawed souls in stunted relationships may uncover recognition and comfort in Adam’s awkward dance across ages towards reconciliation. And by infusing such ghostly machinations with bone-deep performances and lyrical filmmaking, Haigh keeps schmaltz secondary to catharsis.
Does dramatic license go overboard in the final act? Perhaps, but nothing in life or death provides perfect closure. Lingering like a wistful dream just beyond reach, All of Us Strangers stays with you through piercing feeling rather than literal plausibility. Isn’t that akin to the grip our ghosts maintain– sensed in pangs of abstraction, blurred snapshots of memory, yet achingly present all the same?
All of Us Strangers
Sublimely mixing family drama and romantic longing, All of Us Strangers locates haunting truths about the burden of grief and the resilience of intimacy. Uneven but undeniably affecting thanks to its technical mastery and devastating performances, Haigh’s melancholy reverie lures you into its otherworldly grace. Lingering like an ephemeral dream just out of reach, it reminds us that closure is rarely tidy - but reconciliation often closer than we know.
- Powerful lead and supporting performances
- Evocative visuals and cinematography
- Haunting, melancholy atmosphere
- Deeply affecting emotional resonance
- Ambitious themes of grief, regret, and reconciliation
- Uneven plot pacing
- Sentimentality borders on mawkish at times
- Ambiguous ending may frustrate some
- Premise requires significant suspension of disbelief