Andrew Haigh’s ethereal All of Us Strangers is staggering. It’s an exploration of loss, loneliness, and, ultimately, connection. It’s about the inherent messiness of being human and the miracle of empathy, the most priceless gift we can give each other. Every moment in our lives is fleeting, and it’s the moments where we shut ourselves off from the world that will linger longest. Whether it’s time with friends and family taken for granted or a run in with a stranger cut off before it has a chance to develop, All of Us Strangers shows that it’s the connections, and the missed ones, that have the power to transcend.
Adam (Andrew Scott) lives a life of solitude. The movie starts off with him sitting in his apartment, wasting the day away. He snacks and falls asleep in front of his TV. He stares at his laptop screen, struggling to write anything. A neighbor, Harry (Paul Mescal), drunkenly knocks on Adam’s door. Adam politely declines Harry’s invitation to hang out. Haigh lets the camera linger on Adam’s face after he shuts the door. He shakes his head and smiles. It feels like he knows he should’ve said yes but is too afraid. Well, maybe that’s not the right word. He might be too damaged to open himself up to more potential hurt. Plus, he has a script that he needs to write. All he’s written is a slug line for that references a place (a home) and a year (1987). Adam ends up going out to visit his childhood home where he sees his Mum (Claire Foy) and Dad (Jamie Bell), or he thinks he does. Mum and Dad died in 1987.
From there Adam splits his time between visiting his parents and his burgeoning friendship with Harry. Is Adam imagining this? All of it? Some of it? Or has he found a way to connect with his parents beyond this mortal plane? The fascinating thing about Haigh’s script, which is based on Taichi Yamada’s novel Strangers, is that it could be any of those. It could also be all inside Adam’s head, a writer concocting a way to excavate his past and present. That’s up to each viewer to decide for themselves. Real or not, the scenes between Adam and his parents are the heart of the movie. Separated for good when Adam was only 12, he’s now the in the same age range as his parents were when they died. It makes for an unnerving image with Mum and Dad forever youthful while Adam looks older and more world weary. The age disparity, or relative lack thereof, highlights how much they’ve all lost. The lives they could’ve led, individually and together. By this point they’ve been separated longer than the twelve years they had together, and the enormity of that loss comes sharply into focus. Scott, Bell, and Foy are tremendous in these scenes. There’s a small moment between the three, buried beneath the catharsis of their other conversations, that I haven’t been able to shake. Mum asks a question about their deaths, which the audience already knows the answer to, and Adam gifts his parents a bit of dignity and grace when he answers. It’s a seemingly small moment, but the way Mum react is lets us know it’s anything but. The depth of the empathy in this moment took my breath away, and the film is full of similar moments.
After breaking hearts in Aftersun, Mescal plays many of those notes again as Harry, with similarly devastating results. Just like Adam, Mum, and Dad, Harry’s life hasn’t exactly played out like he hoped. Mescal plays Harry as an someone eternally open to life. This approach has brought him more pain than joy. But where Adam has shut himself off from the world, Harry continues to put himself out there. Whatever they are searching for in life, the answer certainly is not in an empty apartment. The funny thing is that both men act out of self-preservation, and it’s brought them together at this specific moment in time.
There’s just never enough time.
That manifests in ways that are obvious, like first dates we wish would never end. Then there are the realizations that can only come from lived experience, but those life lessons are perhaps the most bitter. Like coming to understand that someone can be a part of your life for as long as you’ve been alive and still have so much to learn about each other. All of Us Strangers posits that the only way to bridge the gap from person to person is to be in the moment with whoever you’re with, whenever you’re with them, however you’re with them. Those moments of connection, no matter how brief they are, can make us eternal. Haigh has built a career out of depicting the staggering highs and lows of human connection. All of Us Strangers lands somewhere between the flash in time romance of Weekend and the decades-long marriage at the center of 45 Years. Like those films, All of Us Strangers is beautiful and haunting.
All Of Us Strangers opens in theaters December 22nd