Did you shed tears? The British release of All of Us Strangers has finally arrived after leaving American audiences and viewers at film festivals emotional. The film has received seven awards at the British Independent Film Awards and is nominated for six Baftas, but did not receive any Oscar nominations – but that doesn’t matter. To me, the true success of this film is its ability to tackle themes of love, grief, and loneliness in a compelling and unique way. I first watched it at the end of September and it deeply affected me, leaving a lasting impact as I have thought about it every day since.
During my interview with writer-director Andrew Haigh in December, he mentioned that he intended for the film to become more dream-like as it progressed, but the underlying plot remained logical. However, he also expressed his willingness to consider other interpretations. Let’s explore them further.
On what date did Harry pass away?
In the conclusion of All of Us Strangers, Adam (portrayed by Andrew Scott) goes back to his apartment after encountering the spirits of his parents for the last time. He visits Harry’s (played by Paul Mescal) flat for the first time and is taken aback by the stench of a decaying body. Suddenly, Harry’s ghost appears, clutching the now empty whisky bottle that he had been drinking when he originally showed up at Adam’s door seeking company late at night in the beginning of the movie.
It seems reasonable to assume that after being rejected by Adam, Harry went back to his flat, finished the whisky, took ketamine (Adam finds a baggie) and died of a drug and alcohol overdose, meaning that as well as reuniting with his parents who are ghosts, Adam has been having a love affair with one too.
Regarding the intimate moments in the story …
After Adam returns from Croydon, he is finally able to start a relationship with Harry once he confronts his past and meets the ghosts of his parents. Their discussion about the terms “gay” and “queer” leads them to get together.
After coming out to his mother in Croydon, Adam engages in sexual activity with Harry for the second time. Harry suggests they take a bath due to Adam’s fever. While it is not explicitly stated in the movie, director Haigh revealed that Adam begins to feel unwell after his mother mentions AIDS. In the bath, Adam confesses to Harry (who is not affected by such fears) that he had been too afraid of the disease to engage in sexual activity for years. Later on, as Adam searches for Harry through the tunnels of the tube train, old public information posters about AIDS can be seen on the walls. In order to overcome his repression and open himself up to love, Adam must confront his fear of contracting HIV.
What occurs within the club?
Filmed at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in London, a place Haigh frequently visited in the past, this is the only major musical scene that doesn’t feature an 80s hit. As Adam experiences the effects of ketamine, the soundtrack shifts to Blur’s dreamy Death of a Party from 1997. Haigh revealed that there is a hidden subplot in All of Us Strangers where Adam finds happiness and embraces his identity as a gay man – perhaps this is how he would have spent his early 20s in the 90s. In his altered state, Adam envisions a long-term relationship with Harry, something he has longed for – but unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to last as Harry moves on to someone else in the club while locking eyes with them, causing Adam to wake up screaming.
What is happening at the diner?
The setting of All of Us Strangers is an enigmatically deserted world, symbolizing Adam’s seclusion. He and Harry seem to be the only inhabitants of their high-rise building, and Adam and his parents are the lone patrons at the diner where they have their final meeting, a childhood excursion that Adam was never able to partake in. The sole other individual present is the waitress, who appears unaware of Adam’s parents as she questions if he will be able to finish the family meal he has just ordered.
Adam’s mother inquires about the circumstances of his parents’ death in a car accident. He reassures her that they passed away quickly, despite the fact that his mother actually took days to pass. This little fib seemed to be Adam’s way of compassionately taking care of his parents, sparing them from painful truths that they didn’t need to know in a moment of maturity and empathy.
The specific moment that had a strong impact on me was when Adam’s father (played by Jamie Bell) expresses pride in him. When Adam questions the reason for this, since he hasn’t achieved anything notable, his father responds with, “Because you’ve persevered. It couldn’t have been easy.” This is the first time his parents acknowledge his struggles and the toll it has taken on him to keep moving forward, despite not having a wife, children, a successful job, or other traditional markers of masculinity.
What is the conclusion referring to?
In the final scene of All of Us Strangers, Adam and Harry snuggle on a bed. Harry requests for Adam to play a record, but the song “The Power of Love” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood starts playing without him doing so. Earlier in the film, when Harry first arrived at Adam’s door, he had been watching a 1984 performance of the same song on Top of the Pops. The lyrics of the song include the romantic line “I’ll protect you from the Hooded Claw / Keep the vampires from your door”. This is a subtle reference to when Harry, in a half-asleep state, had mentioned to Adam that there were vampires outside his door before Adam rejected him.
Adam and Harry are able to genuinely express love, comfort, and support for one another. However, this scene is both beautiful and saddening as it takes place in a supernatural realm, rather than in reality. As the camera zooms out, the couple appears as a small part of a larger constellation of stars in the night sky, perhaps representing the other isolated characters in the movie.
Is Adam deceased as well? I do not believe Haigh intends for us to believe so. The message conveyed is that love has the power to break down the barrier between life and death, and it is our only protection against the endless darkness that envelops us. This is something Adam has realized after a lifetime of avoiding his own deep longing for human connection. Now, I believe I may have tears in my eyes…