Film response: All of Us Strangers

Last updated on May 4th, 2024 at 09:12 pm

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My initial response on Letterboxd after watching All of Us Strangers was: Is Andrew Haigh OK? Still, impressed by its look & feel and the performances, I watched it again and took copious notes, primarily because I wanted to track the transitions between diegetic time and fantasy time — I’m not sure these are even the correct terms, to be honest — therefore determining the film’s methods of deixis. Unfortunately for me, if not for you, I’m no closer to understanding what director Andrew Haigh was after than I was before. Giving it a close reading didn’t help me enjoy it more either, although I once again admired the performances and the succession of lovely, colorful superimpositions, visual enjambments, and lap dissolves.

Most viewers, judging by the abundance of five-star ratings on Letterboxd and the nearly universally high ratings on IMDb, have dismissed or ignored the film’s fundamental incoherence, as it relates to genre and narrative, at the very least — where are we in that last sequence, for instance? Where and when are we ever in this movie? — instead being awed by the performances, the cinematography, the art design, the mise en scène, which I could mention too, although my appreciation of these doesn’t resolve any of my core reservations.

I’m just too attuned to form these days to be anything other than dissatisfied with and mystified by the proceedings. There were moments when I also felt appalled. The image of a grown man in his childhood jammies climbing into bed with a fantasy projection of his deceased parents creeped me out once again during the second viewing, particularly when these projections seem to know they are dead and aware of their son’s being an adult in the present moment, whenever that is. Maybe that’s why some fans have called All of Us Strangers a horror movie, although I think they’ve adopted a too-easy and not-at-all material explanation of what Adam’s parents are: that they’re ghosts. They’re not any sort of recognizably generic ghosts, however. There really are no genre markers of any kind that might lead audiences to expect horror or thriller outcomes, which is one reason I characterize this film as incoherent. All of Us Strangers plays out like a psychological drama with supernatural elements, so perhaps it’s best to describe it as a fabulist tale, although that sweeps some pertinent and incongruent details under the rug.

But I agree that it’s disturbing to realize everything that comes after the sequence seen in the screenshots below takes place inside Adam’s head. So, therefore, the rapprochement attempted and, to a great extent, achieved in the scenes with his family, all the love and care expressed, and the entire emergent relationship with Harry, which we see beginning to transform both of them — none of it is real. I must admit that is rather horrifying.

Below, Adam surveys a field and a small wood near his childhood, closes his eyes, time passes and then he turns and sees his dead father gesturing to him to follow. The lap dissolve represents Adam’s and our break with reality, and he never comes back. Whether we do depends, I think, on how gullible we are, or to put more kindly, how seduced we are by the fantasies within fantasies within fantasies.

Film still from All of Us Strangers
Film still from All of Us Strangers
Film still from All of Us Strangers
Film still from All of Us Strangers
Film still from All of Us Strangers
Film still from All of Us Strangers
Film still from All of Us Strangers
Film still from All of Us Strangers
Film still from All of Us Strangers
Andrew Scott as Adam in Andrew Haigh's All of Us Strangers
Andrew Scott as Adam in Andrew Haigh's All of Us Strangers
Andrew Scott as Adam in Andrew Haigh's All of Us Strangers
Andrew Scott as Adam in Andrew Haigh's All of Us Strangers
Andrew Scott as Adam in Andrew Haigh's All of Us Strangers
Andrew Scott as Adam in Andrew Haigh's All of Us Strangers
Andrew Scott as Adam in Andrew Haigh's All of Us Strangers
Andrew Scott as Adam in Andrew Haigh's All of Us Strangers
Andrew Scott as Adam in Andrew Haigh's All of Us Strangers
Andrew Scott as Adam in Andrew Haigh's All of Us Strangers
Andrew Scott as Adam in Andrew Haigh's All of Us Strangers

Basically, the rest of the film after this, 13 minutes in, is nothing but fatalistic fantasy, and by extension, a cruel ruse, a beautiful lacuna where a story should be. Further, if the film never depicts these events within its diegetic time, how can we find inspiration in the drama of familial acceptance and ecstatic same-sex romantic discovery? If we’re honest, we can find no sapience here. Any attentive viewer might feel cozened. Any non-attentive viewer gets what he paid for.

It’s all just too weird, particularly since the aforementioned performances and mise en scène work overtime to help hide these periphrastic details and the fact that Adam, the central protagonist impeccably portrayed by perpetually teary-eyed Andrew Scott, clearly needs some counseling and perhaps some mood-altering drugs. Maybe we do too after misreading this movie.

Stream All of Us Strangers and decide for yourself. There are subtitles for English, Italian, and French; let me know if they’re not synced. Donors can download a higher quality version.

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