All of Us Strangers: Time Cannot Heal All Wounds


Antonia Shipley (she/her) explores Andrew Haigh 's new film All of Us Strangers

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By Antonia Shipley

Navigating the past in order to grapple with the future is something we must all do at some point in our lives; this is exactly what Andrew Haigh tenderly but harrowingly dissects in his new film All of Us Strangers.

Adapted from the Japanese novel Strangers by Taichi Yamada, Haigh utilises magic realism in a profoundly human way to explore the emotional turmoil of grief and loss. The audience is introduced to Adam, played by the ever-fantastic Andrew Scott, a scriptwriter living in a sequestered, newly built flat in London, beset by the quiet, familiar sense of ennui and anhedonia that permeates contemporary society. He is greeted by a clumsy but kindly neighbour, Harry (a northern Paul Mescal), who shows up at Adam’s door, inebriated and attempting to invite himself in for a drink or “whatever else”, noting the unbearable silence that pervades the building. Adam declines, seemingly emotionally incapacitated and unable to let another into his solitary existence.

We are soon transported to Adam’s 80s childhood home in the suburbs, set in the real childhood home of director Andrew Haigh, cultivating an implacably personal nexus which imbues the film. Adam finds his home unchanged from 30 years ago, including his deceased parents, unaged, alive, and pleased to greet him, creating a unique sense of familiarity for audiences. Adam tackles the unabating sense of indignance that appears as an appendage to losing a loved one or experiencing trauma such as parental divorce; the what-ifs, the yearning for memories that were never made, and ultimately the realisation that time cannot heal all wounds. I found myself, rather lachrymose, envisioning what it would be like to communicate to a loved one I had lost, to talk about who I had become as we sat at the dinner table, to share the experiences which had been stolen from us. Whilst this sounds like a dismal premise, the cinematography brilliantly captures the comfort found in glimpsing into what was and what could have been. Often, it is said that children are adept at dealing with trauma, but this is often because these traumas are not truly understood; instead, they are internalised and locked away. Haigh brings us face to face with what it is to be human, to love and to lose, making us realise in some way, somehow, we are all grievers, and we cannot move to the future without truly knowing and feeling our past.

Through the metaphysical experience which allows Adam to excavate his past, he is able to truly know himself, his sexuality and his feelings towards Harry. The celebrated 1980s soundtrack and use of sound bridges guide the wrenching emotion of the film, for example, the Pet Shop Boys’ famous track ‘Always on My Mind’ is used to craft an unforgettable scene that wrings with regret, as Adam’s mother softly, ashamedly, sings the lyrics to the son she was not able to see grow up. This scene’s score is painfully resonant of the wistful regret we experience when we reflect on the figures in our lives, past and present, the things we said, or perhaps did not, and the things we did or did not do. However, Haigh employs Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s masterpiece ‘Power of Love’ to truly tap into the soul; quoted by Harry at the start of the film, intricately inserted at certain moments in the film, then quoted by Adam and playing at the ushering the end of the story. In particular, the lyric ‘dreams are like angels’ allows us to make sense of the reverie-like haze of the film, but perhaps most powerfully, the titular lyric ‘the power of love’ gives the film its raison d’etre – the sheer power that love wields over our existence, its all-encompassing incandescence yet unfathomable capacity to shatter us. Haigh’s gossamer yet vivid touch on this reaches into the depths of human emotion, allowing viewers not only to watch the film but experience it.

The film’s message echoes T. S. Eliot’s ‘Little Gidding’ poem, which embraces the interconnectedness of the past, present, and the future:

"We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time."

Whilst this review remains relatively spoiler-free, as I exhort everyone to watch All of Us Strangers, the carefully crafted ending is heartstopping. Though certainly not the ending viewers may hope for or expect, it is entirely satiating and encompasses all the themes of love, mortality and healing in the film, serving as the crux of Haigh’s emotional philosophy: life is fleeting, framed by its brevity. Love, however, is marked by its permanence and capacity to leave an indelible mark on the soul. Love has no timepeace, no expiry, it is utterly transcendent.