We look at Andrew Haigh’s most recent work which explores love and grief through queer experiences...
In All of Us Strangers two men, Adam (Andrew Scott) and Harry (Paul Mescal), live seemingly isolated lives in the same newly built flats – until Harry arrives at Adam’s door, promising “I'll keep the vampires from your door”. Through the relationship that develops between them, and as Frankie Goes to Hollywood warbles at the film’s opening, we see the power of love and its ability to save us. But to paint this film simply with the brush of ‘romance’ would be to obscure the similarly profound power of parental love, and the agony of bereavement that the film also explores.
“I’ve drifted… almost to the edge”, says Harry, as he describes his position as an outsider on the periphery of his family. His movements seem to mirror this painful admission: Harry's arms stretch out so that they hang suspended over the edge of the bed that he and Adam lie in. This feeling of being suspended on the edge is a current that runs through the film and takes different forms.
Through well-written and subtle dialogue, the film shows how sometimes being queer is about being stranded on the edge, pushed there by a heteronormative and homophobic society. An example of this subtly is when Adam and Harry – 20 years apart in age – discuss the different terms ‘queer’ and ‘gay’. For Adam, the word queer is an insult and an allusion to strangeness. Whereas for Harry, in his early twenties, ‘queer’ is an empowering term while ‘gay’ is a weapon in the arsenal of schoolyard bullying.
The semantics may have changed, but the feeling of being on the outside remains the same. Adam understands Harry’s feeling of isolation, “It doesn’t take much”, he replies moments later, “To be back there again, skin all raw”. A sense of solace through their shared loneliness soon morphs into something much more as they fall in love.
Scott’s careful charm and powerful acting give us access to Adam's inner complexity
Scott and Mescal are superbly cast. Scott’s careful charm and powerful acting give us access to Adam's inner complexity that might perhaps be lost with someone less skilful. Joining him is Mescal as a northern Harry, open and understanding: somewhere safe for Adam.
But their relationship is merely part of the film because running concurrently to this is Adam’s deep and heavy bereavement. It is in this grief that the film’s sense of the surreal comes into focus: to help his writer's block whilst he writes about his parents, Adam decides to visit his childhood home. Here he finds his long-deceased parents, immortalized in the 1980s, the time that they died.
A fascinating dynamic is created because Harry is no longer the 12-year-old boy they knew, but rather a grown man in his 40s. They are at once intimately familiar and like strangers. But through their reconnection, they develop a different kind of bond based on a mature kind of love. Although figments of his imagination, these visits visibly heal a part of Adam damaged by his lifelong grief.
But what begins as an innocent desire for connection to his parents, shifts and becomes a source of unnerving delusion. Adam takes Harry by train to see his parents who Harry knows to be dead. Until this moment, the audience and Adam are in collusion; the visits to his parents feel like a secret – safe in their privacy. However, here, having brought Harry into his delusion, the audience loses their trust in Adam to distinguish between the truth and his fantasies. Like the way a reflection in the glass sometimes shows us the thing itself more clearly, Harry's reaction exposes Adam’s delusions for what they are. The audience are themselves now placed on the edge unsure of what is fact and what is fiction.
Yet, in the film's final moments what is real and what is not doesn't matter, because Adam's experience with grief and love is true. Although he briefly loses reality, he gains real experience with his parents and with Harry. Not healed by the end but graced with a form of closure through his fantasies, Adam can begin to move forward. Equipped perhaps with the knowledge that the vampires at his door are less like monsters and more like men hoping to be allowed in.
All of Us Strangers is now showing at Broadway Cinema
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