Andrew Haigh’s metaphysical love story All of Us Strangers is a modern masterpiece
Occasionally you see a film that just grabs you by the heart and doesn’t let go. The latest from writer/director Andrew Haigh (Weekend, 45 Years) All of Us Strangers is one of those films. A film of resonant beauty and searing pain, it hasn’t left my mind in days.
Adam (Andrew Scott – Fleabag) is a 40-something writer living in a sparsely populated new build tower block in London. Attempting to write a screenplay about his parents who died when he was 12, he has filled his flat with old pictures and a constant stream of 80s Top of the Pops recordings in an attempt to revisit that time. When Harry (Paul Mescal – Aftersun) a neighbour and outrageous flirt knocks on Adam’s door one night looking for company, the two begin a romantic relationship.
On going back to his childhood hometown seeking further research for his story, Adam makes a startling discovery. His parents (played by Claire Foy and Jamie Bell) are somehow still living in his old family home. Even more startlingly they haven’t aged a day, appearing exactly as they did in his memories from 30 years earlier. Rather than be scared off by these ghosts from the past, Adam seizes the opportunity to have all the conversations he wishes he could have had when they were alive.
It’s an emotive topic for anyone who’s lost a parent too young, the universal sadness of knowing that a person you loved didn’t get to see who you grew up to be. Who wouldn’t want the chance to share major life events with their loved and lost? To seek advice, or praise, or pride? Haigh allows beautiful and relatable family relationships to shine by not getting too caught up in the practical mechanics of the story. “Is this real?” Adam asks at one point. “I don’t know, does it feel real?” is the reply. This is the grand total of exploration into the ghosty plot points of All of Us Strangers and the film is that much better for it.
Haigh evolves from his usual naturalism to create a liminal picture that seems to exist on the hazy edge of a dream, a memory, a fantasy. It’s beautifully shot with emphasis on reflection that takes on a practical edge, as we keep catching Adam and Harry in mirrored surfaces, catching each other’s eyes or our own. The symbolic use of colour grading and lighting is simply stunning, with Adam’s parent’s house cast in warm orange and the apartment building in cold blue – something that we will later learn has a narrative relevance yes, but is first and foremost just beautiful to look at.
The twin story lines; the reconciliation with the parents and the scintillating romance run together brilliantly, each being used to propel the other forward. Where Adam frees himself by finally being able to come out to his parents, he is further able to exorcise his buried shame and grief through his conversations with Harry. They discuss their contrasting experiences of growing up as gay men in different generations, but their similar experiences of loneliness, fear and disconnection.
All of Us Strangers is carried by a heartbreakingly vulnerable, emotionally honest performance from the incredible Andrew Scott. Where I’ve been in awe of his stage work for many years, it is a pure joy to finally see him in the big screen leading man role he has long deserved. Where Mescal’s Harry is the more mysterious character for much of the run time, his measured reveal of a deep sadness is what gives weight to the films most devastating moments, culminating in an emotional atom bomb of an ending that is sure to leave audiences shaken.
It sounds superlative but I honestly cannot heap enough praise on this film. A supremely well-acted, beautifully captured, sensitively measured take on the importance of human connection and the power of love to transcend time and even death itself. An instant modern classic, I already want to watch it again yet fear my battered heart can’t take it.
All of Us Strangers is screening as part of the BFI London Film Festival. It will be released in UK cinemas on 26th January 2024