All of Us Strangers in a strange and lonely land

Story by Sophie Mertzel
Page Designer

Illustration by Heejoon (Joon) Lee
Staff Illustrator

All of Us Strangers is a new romantic drama written and directed by Andrew Haigh, following screenwriter Adam (Andrew Scott), whose life is so empty of people that even his apartment building is almost uninhabited. That is, except for Harry (Paul Mescal). One night, Harry comes to Adam’s door, sparking a relationship between them. As the film continues, the pair grow closer, and Adam begins to reconnect with his past.

The film’s main focus is the experience of loneliness. Adam has spent the majority of his life without close connection and seems resigned to that existence, even while longing for more. Meeting Harry inspires in Adam a desire for relationships in his life and delivers the conviction to seek them. This encourages Adam to visit his childhood home for the first time in years. Upon entering, he sees his father (Jamie Bell) and mother (Claire Foy) as they were in 1987, prior to their deaths in a car crash when Adam was 12. While he does not know how they are there, he begins visiting daily and discussing his life with his parents.

The atmosphere of this film is oppressively isolated. The entire cast is made up of four characters — Adam, Harry, and Adam’s parents. Even when scenes are filled to the brim, it only heightens the emotional distance between Adam and others. In particular, the music contributes to this tension and emptiness, balancing between ethereal and haunting. At times, it is bright but soft, particularly in scenes between Adam and Harry. As the film continues and Adam reckons with his grief, the music becomes heavier with deep and eerie tones. Even without watching the film, listening to the score can take one on the same emotional journey. 

The most powerful force of All of Us Strangers is how it places silence. It uses a white space of noise, allowing the focus to remain on the actors’ physical presence. This choice allowed a more subtle and raw portrayal to come through. While watching, it almost gives the impression that the majority of the movie is without dialogue. This is able to be so effective thanks to the excellent acting of the cast. Scott carries the emotional weight of the film, and the viewer watches as his expressions tell the whole story. He is a great physical actor, and any casual viewer — perhaps having seen him in the titular role in Hamlet — can see his ability to convey a multitude of emotions at once. Scott wears this emotion on his sleeve without it ever feeling like a gimmick. This transports the audience right next to him, almost as if they have entered his consciousness, and is especially effective when the audience is not sure what is truly real. 

Mescal’s performance plays well off of Scott. Harry is full of charisma, pursuing Adam and putting his all into their relationship. His role requires joy and flirtatiousness along with intense sadness, and all are played so well it is easy to feel like an intruder in their lives. The actors’ chemistry as these characters is more than could have been asked for, imploring the audience to root for them.

The costuming and performances of the parents sell the impression that Adam is walking into another time. The film does not shy away from the realistic difficulty that would come with the past being sent to the present. Their portrayals beautifully show the experience of grief; that time does not heal all wounds. A death from one’s past, especially in childhood, will continue to affect them. The way Adam perceives relationships with others is shaped by this loss, and his journey seeing them again so many years later helps him continue on with his life. He does not necessarily “heal” from that loss, but acknowledges the pain it causes him. This portrayal of grief feels refreshing and more nuanced than much of the mainstream media.

The ending to All of Us Strangers is devastating, leaving the viewer with more questions than answers. The film portrays the sadness, beauty, and loneliness of life, creating a breathtaking world in a matter of 105 minutes.

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