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All Of Us Strangers: A 90-Minute Therapy Session



Feature By Tyla Fergusson-Platt

As the lights came up and the dying embers of The Power of Love blared from the speakers, tears rolled down my cheeks. I never cry at films. Not even Shawshank Redemption or any other film you’re supposed to cry to. In All of Us Strangers, like many others, I felt a deep resonation to the story being told like no other I have seen before.

For me personally it took a while to unpack. It was only a few days after the film that I realised why it had impacted me in such a powerful way. For a long time, I have been estranged from my mum. We have always had a difficult relationship, with a parental breakup and all the fun that comes from that being the catalyst for radio silence. Up until now I had subscribed to the mantra of the poet Philip Larkin, that our parents f*** us up.

However, watching All of Us Strangers I came to a profound realisation. My parents through all their faults were doing the best they could with what they had. It’s almost fashionable lately to pin all our anxieties and traumas on them, with discussions on attachment theory (how the behaviour of a main caregiver affects our future relationships) being commonplace. This new way of seeing my relationship with my parents took me aback and forced me to re-evaluate everything. I now understood the second part of Larkin’s poem ‘They f*** you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do.’ What I was left with was a new sense of compassion and forgiveness for them, because how can you stay angry with someone who is doing the best they can?

The film conveys this message in a clever way. The main character Adam (Andrew Scott) is a writer who lives a secluded life in a London high rise. Visions of his dead parents plague him causing him to travel to back to his old family home. His parents in the film are played as ghosts, having died long ago in a car crash when Adam was just a teenager. They are solidified in the 1980’s when they died, with the same fashion, music tastes and crucially the same attitudes. Some are the prevailing attitudes of the time like homophobia. Adam reveals after a tough line of questioning from his mother, that he is gay. His mother is shocked and instead of reassuring him becomes distant and her reaction causes Adam to spiral in shame. It is through a conversation with his father afterwards that the film effectively highlights a parent’s flaws but also reveals their intention to do the best they can.

There is redemption between father and son, as Adam asks, ‘why if you heard me crying after school (due to being bullied for being gay) did you do nothing?’ His father tells his son of the regret he felt for how he treated him growing up. He bubbles up with tears and says, ‘I’m sorry I never came into your room when I heard you crying.’ In one of the most heart wrenching scenes in the film as Adam bursts in tears, his father asks, ‘Do you want a hug now?’. Adam nods his head crying. His dad embraces him giving the affection and paternal love that Adam was so missing as a child. It shows that although people are flawed, they deserve forgiveness if they seek it and accept their wrongdoing. His father and many others of the time were held back by societies attitudes and a lack of education around the topic. In the end he saw that he should have done more and attempted to heal his wounds with his son, as best he could.

The film covers so many topics that it is likely to resonate with people in different ways. One of All of Us Strangers central focuses is on sexuality, and it should be rightly celebrated that a mainstream film covers the complexities and hardships of growing up gay. It was uplifting to watch how the film showcased the issues surrounding being gay from the perspective of a gay person. Like the new waves of female voices that are now directors in the industry, it is refreshing to hear a different perspective being told. A particular scene with Adam and Harry (Paul Mescal) discusses the changing use of the word gay. Growing up it was used in a negative way. As Mescal jokes people would say ‘Those trainers are gay’ or ‘This sofa is gay’. It picks up on societies positive changes around sexuality and forces the viewer to feel uncomfortable at their own history and actions.

Trauma can be a throwaway word, its use in art isn’t always told in an effective way. In All of Us Strangers, the issue of trauma isn’t used in a flippant way to elevate a story. It’s told in a thoughtful, dedicated way that gives airtime to all parties involved, showing the complex nature of families, society, and trauma in a way that I haven’t seen before. If you are to see any film this year, let it be All of Us Strangers.

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