Ever sat in a cinema auditorium and know instantly, from the very first shot, that you are about to experience something very special? This was the feeling generated by the opening shot of Andrew Haigh‘s All Of Us Strangers, which screened at the London Film Festival this week.
The camera opens on a panoramic view of London at dawn. As the sun rises, it hits the buildings in the distance and the reflection of Andrew Scott slowly emerges into focus basked in orange and blue hues. Revealing he is staring out of the window of a high rise flat.
It is a stunning shot and sets the tone for the character of Adam, who is often seen through reflections in mirrors and windows. He is someone who has never filled the gap left by the loss of his parents. Unable to fully heal and move on from that moment in time. In many ways, living only half a life. A fact mirrored by the transparency of his appearance in glass. Glass that is as fragile as his emotional state.
Scott’s character Adam lives alone in his Ivory Tower. A sparsely populated, brand new apartment building (potentially in Canary Wharf/Isle of Dogs) where he works as a writer. Which in the film’s most damning scene, for anyone who is a writer themselves, is illustrated by him spending his days staring blankly at a screen and falling asleep watching TV waiting for inspiration to hit.
One night Adam has a chance encounter with a mysterious neighbour Harry (played by Aftersun‘s Paul Mescal). Despite initially rejecting his drunken advances, Adam finds himself drawn to Harry. A potential anchor that could keep him in the present.
Harry’s appearance comes at a time when Adam finds himself drawn back to his childhood home in the suburbs of London. It is there that he “meets” his parents, who are exactly the same as the day they died. They welcome him in and he is able to tell them about his life.
Initially it is unclear if the conversations are the physical manifestation of a writing technique he is using to construct a screenplay, as a way of dealing with the loss, or if he is actually interacting with the ghosts of his parents.
Given the fact they have been frozen in time, it does lead to some awkward exchanges as Adam comes out to them. Fuelled by the hysteria over homosexuality and the AIDS pandemic in the 80s, their initial shock, worry, and slight bigotry, are instantly recognisible to anyone familiar with the time. It is a tricky tightrope to walk for Bell and Foy, to be honest yet sympathetic, but they both traverse it perfectly. Their love that was unable to be expressed in life, slowly seeping through in death.
As he increases the frequency of his “visits”, Adam finds himself being increasingly pulled between two worlds. It is a hard decision to make. What would you do if given the opportunity to tell someone special, everything you didn’t have the chance to at the time? Does he spend his life living with ghosts or pursue the possibility of something very real with Harry.
During one of their early encounters, the two men discuss the terms “queer” and “gay” in relation to their sexuality. However, similar to what Haigh achieved with the central relationship in his debut feature Weekend, this is just love. Pure and simple. Scott and Mescal have a wonderful chemistry together. There is a tenderness to their relationship, like two lost souls holding each other tight in fear of drifting off into the darkness.
The film will undoubtedly hit hard with anyone who has suffered the loss of a parent, particularly at a young age. Also those who have struggled with their sexuality and the trepidation of coming out. Or even the act of simply forming and maintaining a connection with someone. However Scott’s heartbreaking performance is so strong that it will be impossible for anyone not to feel for him as he struggles to reconcile his past, present and future.
The film has a tiny cast. Just the four actors (Scott, Mescal plus Jamie Bell and Claire Foy as Adam’s parents) but everyone delivers to the peak of their abilities. Their performances continually ground the film in a poignant realism that counters the more fantastical elements of the story.
This is a movie about lonely souls in search of connection and acceptance. Many of us go to the cinema alone in search of connection. For the chance to collectively feel something. All Of Us Strangers that enter the cinema to watch this film, will find themselves bonded from that shared experience of witnessing a truly stunning piece of filmmaking and storytelling. There won’t be a dry eye in the house. Any walls built up to resist the film’s power to emotionally destroy you will come crashing down and the floodgates open wide with the film’s final needle drop.
All Of Us Strangers is released in UK cinemas on January 26 2024
Director: Andrew Haigh
Stars: Andrew Scott, Paul Mescal, Jamie Bell, Claire Foy
Runtime: 105 minutes