We need to talk about the ending of All of Us Strangers

Andrew Haigh’s darkish love story All of Us Strangers arrived to Hulu on Feb. 22, after two quiet months of build up phrase of mouth in theaters. Debuting simply earlier than Christmas and competing with quite a bit of extra bombastic releases, it initially reached a small viewers — but it surely was evident that it made an impression, as critics and viewers spun out prolonged on-line analyses and discussions of its memorable, divisive ending.

Right here at Polygon, we’re united in admiring the movie, however we disagree about the influence of that ending — whether or not it’s mandatory, truthful to the characters, constructive to the movie, you title it. And when we’ve robust disagreements on Polygon’s leisure staff, we ship the case to Polygon Court docket, as we did once we debated the alternate ending of James Cameron’s Titanic, the most vital half of the Quick and Livid franchise, the downside of Spider in Avatar: The Manner of Water, and the track lower from The Muppet Christmas Carol, amongst different knotty popular culture circumstances.

On this case, we’ve divergent opinions on what the finish of All of Us Strangers accomplishes. Polygon Court docket is now in session.

[Ed. note: End spoilers ahead for All of Us Strangers.]

The ending of All of Us Strangers

Picture: Searchlight Photos/Everett Assortment

All of Us Strangers is a quiet love story about a lonely, remoted screenwriter, Adam (Andrew Scott), who returns to his childhood residence whereas engaged on a script, and finds his dad and mom there, despite the fact that they died when he was a toddler. Over the course of the film, he will get some much-needed closure with these ghosts, however in addition they gently inform him that his relationship with them is holding him again, they usually go away him behind in a tearful scene.

At the similar time all this is occurring, Adam meets a neighbor, Harry (Paul Mescal), seemingly the solely different particular person already residing in his high-rise condominium constructing. Harry exhibits up at Adam’s door drunk one evening, looking for firm. Adam, shy and awkward, shuts him out. Later, although, they reconnect, and launch an initially tentative, then passionate relationship. Adam finally tries to introduce Harry to his ghost-parents, which works poorly, and Harry flees. When Adam seeks him out, visiting Harry’s condominium for the first time, he finds that Harry is useless — and has been useless since the evening of that first assembly, when Adam rebuffed him, and Harry returned to his personal mattress and overdosed.

In the film’s closing sequence, Adam accepts his lover as a ghost, comforts him, and curls up in mattress with him. The digicam slowly retreats, leaving them in darkness.

Opening statements: The facility of love

Harry (Paul Mescal) tears up as he faces Adam (Andrew Scott) in All of Us Strangers

Picture: Searchlight Photos/Everett Assortment

Tasha: Pete, the ending of All of Us Strangers had a strong emotional impact on me. I discovered it gorgeous — the performances, the emotional tenor they convey to Adam and Harry’s relationship, the method the sequence pays off the themes which have been constructing all through the film, the use of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s “The Power Of Love” each on the soundtrack and in the lyrics Adam quotes. I beloved it! So I used to be shocked to discover out it was your least favourite half of the film. Sum it up for me: What was your response to it?

Pete: I discovered it bitter and disappointing. I completely beloved the first 80-ish minutes of the film, gorgeously shot and acted story about the lingering energy of love and being beloved. However the reveal at the finish about Harry’s destiny felt like an affordable narrative trick. It’s unnecessarily merciless, with out including a lot depth or influence to what was already an extremely highly effective story.

Presentation of proof: Is the ending of All of Us Strangers justified?

Adam (Andrew Scott) and Harry (Paul Mescal) dance together in a nightclub in purple spangled light in All of Us Strangers

Picture: Searchlight Photos/Everett Assortment

Tasha, the case for the ending: There’s quite a bit to unpack there, however the half that surprises me most is the concept that Harry’s dying doesn’t add depth to the story. For me, the ending turns a reasonably easy, simple “let go of the past, embrace the future” love story into one thing rather more thematically difficult, the place we’ve to contemplate the variations between Adam’s relationship together with his dad and mom and with Harry, and what every of them says about him.

If Adam’s relationship together with his ghost-parents was holding him again, are we meant to see his relationship together with his ghost-boyfriend in the similar method? Is their embrace contradictory? Is it backsliding? Is it essentially totally different as a result of he’s supporting somebody who wants him, as a substitute of the reverse? Adam didn’t create Harry’s habit or despair, however does he bear any guilt or blame for what occurred to Harry? Or is he simply feeling the accountability of taking care of somebody he loves?

How are we meant to really feel about this ending, and what it says about the film’s themes and Adam’s state of thoughts? I’ve been weighing all these items ever since I first noticed the film months in the past, and I assure that wouldn’t be true if it was only a easy story of somebody studying to transfer previous his personal previous.

Pete, the case towards: I believe these are all extremely attention-grabbing questions, and at the finish of the day, what I’ve settled on is that this narrative selection wouldn’t have felt so jarring for me if it had been established early on. As a substitute, as a really late twist to what you’ve seen, it comes throughout to me as too enamored with its personal cleverness and finally merciless to Adam, sentencing him to a lifetime of distress and loneliness. (And as you famous, bringing the query of guilt and blame into the state of affairs.)

Sure, he “has” Harry in his life, however half of the pleasure of being in a romantic partnership is having the ability to share the love of your life with different individuals you take care of — as Adam exhibits by “taking” Harry out to a bar and to his dad and mom’ home. The reveal tells us how empty their life collectively will really be.

Tasha, the case for the ending: I don’t see it the similar method in any respect! It doesn’t appear to be Adam has anybody in his life to introduce Harry to. The truth that they will exit to a bar and dance collectively proves that they aren’t restricted to hiding in non-public, and going out with Harry frees Adam from cloistered isolation. Possibly they aren’t destined for glowing dinner events or group holidays with a crowd of associates, however there wasn’t any of that in Adam’s life earlier than Harry got here alongside, both. At the least with Harry, he has somebody.

I’m actually not arguing that All of Us Strangers’ ending is a cheerful one: At very best, it’s bittersweet, and sure, fairly lonely. However inside that tragic-romance area, there’s a melancholy energy to the concept of discovering somebody you are feeling so linked to that you simply’re prepared to hand over the world for them if need be — and somebody you like a lot that your romance transcends dying itself.

And I’d argue that there’s additionally a very vital energy in a film ending the place what the viewers feels about the protagonist’s state of affairs and what the protagonist feels about it are radically totally different from one another. I’m pondering about the ending of one of my all-time favourite motion pictures, Brazil, or extra not too long ago, Everlasting Sunshine of the Spotless Thoughts. In each circumstances, the viewers is left someplace between saddened and horrified in spite of the characters’ happiness. I see one thing comparable occurring on this ending, and I respect it as a tough however emotionally efficient factor to pull off.

Adam (Andrew Scott) stands alone on a subway car, hanging onto the overhead railing, looking drained and haggard in All of Us Strangers

Picture: Searchlight Photos/Everett Assortment

Pete, the case towards: For me, half of the energy of the film is the proven fact that the questions you raised nonetheless linger meaningfully regardless of my distaste for the ending. It is contradictory, which is fascinating, and I believe the film frames Adam and Harry’s embrace as consolation, even when to me it’s a very chilly one. I’ll disagree with you on one most important level: I believe the film would have been simply as highly effective for me had it solely been about Adam transferring on from his dad and mom’ dying and transferring ahead with Harry.

For me, that story nonetheless had a lot to say about the enduring energy of love (one thing Haigh has said he wanted to communicate with the film) and its means to cross unfathomable, even metaphysical boundaries. Claire Foy and Jamie Bell’s uncontainable curiosity about their son’s life and pursuits hit me onerous, and I felt his relationship with Harry was an exquisite counterbalance as a result of of the generational gaps (huge and small) all through the film, and the alternative it introduced for him to lastly be completely happy.

Tasha, the case for the ending: However then how would Harry have interacted with that storyline in any respect? Would the narrative focus simply been a easy selection between the residing and the useless, the previous and the current?

You mentioned you’d have most popular to know that Harry was useless earlier in the film, however I don’t assume that would have labored narratively. And the cause is what you simply famous about Adam’s dad and mom. I don’t assume we might have processed Harry’s dying or determined what to do with it till Adam’s arc together with his dad and mom was resolved. Their curiosity about Adam’s life and about their very own deaths, their emotions about their ongoing relationship with Adam and what he wants so as to transfer ahead — these are all priming us to perceive how ghosts work on this world, and what a relationship with one can be like. (The small print are fairly distinctive!)

Sure, I agree it performs as a “gotcha” sort of twist — not a gleeful one, however actually a “You didn’t see this coming.” (I’ve thought quite a bit about whether or not there’s an argument to be made that All of Us Strangers is a stealth sequel to The Sixth Sense, which includes a comparable sort of ending twist, although in that world, the useless don’t know they’re useless.)

However I additionally assume it wanted to be the very last thing that occurs in the film, as a result of till Adam’s wrapped his arc together with his dad and mom, he’s nonetheless a person in transition. He has to make it via that have so as to determine how to method Harry based mostly on all the things he’s realized — and we the viewers need his relationships together with his dad and mom and with Harry to be distinct from one another, associated and intertwined, however nonetheless not simply easy extensions of one another.

Pete, the case towards: One factor I struggled with after ending the movie was concern that my distaste got here out of a dislike of one thing unhealthy occurring to a personality I favored. However then I watched Hirokazu Kore-eda’s new movie Monster, a film I really like the place lots of unhealthy issues occur to characters I like (and that features some intelligent twists!). That helped reaffirm the place I used to be coming from right here, regardless of how jumbled my emotions about All of Us Strangers are.

And my emotions proceed to be jumbled as we talk about it — I discover myself agreeing with quite a bit of what you’re saying, and the problem the film would have had narratively if it hadn’t positioned Harry’s dying as a twist. I do assume it’s potential, and in my model, quite than a selection between the residing or the useless, it might be the residing and the useless — accepting each the permanence and penalties of dying, in addition to the alternative of life in the new world he has for himself. As constructed, he does select between the residing and the useless, and the selection he makes is “the dead.” However I’ll push that hypothetical rewrite onto Andrew Haigh as a substitute, and go away that up to him to work out.

Finally what I’m grateful for is that this isn’t one of these motion pictures the place I’m left utterly bewildered by different individuals’s responses to it. I believe there are quite a bit of wonderful issues about All of Us Strangers, and I’m extremely glad that individuals are responding to it so positively, even when I didn’t all the method via.

Harry (Paul Mescal) and Adam (Andrew Scott) curl up together, face to face in a red-lit bed, in All of Us Strangers

Picture: Searchlight Photos/Everett Assortment

Tasha, the case for the ending: And I actually perceive your objections! The factor I’m left questioning the most about the film is the narrative perversity of Adam having his dependence on two ghosts damaged towards his will, for his personal good — after which turning round and emotionally committing to a 3rd one.

That, and yet one more factor that does actually give me pause: the method this film sadly falls into the “bury your gays” trope. It’s a longstanding, well-noted subject that queer characters disproportionately endure tragic symbolic endings, and it’s uncommon to see a queer couple get an uncompromised completely happy ending. I’m in favor of this particular film ending, however I’m not completely comfy with how the film suits into the cliché.

Trying into the supply materials right here — the film is a free adaptation of Taichi Yamada’s 1987 Japanese novel Strangers — this ending may be very a lot Haigh’s radical revision of a narrative involving a straight relationship, and a person stricken by predatory ghosts. The Harry equal, a lady named Kei, even reads as vengeful and indignant about the Adam equal refusing her early in the story — a rejection that pushed her to take her personal life by repeatedly stabbing herself. There’s no query that the Adam character wants to escape her earlier than she kills him. It’s a remarkably totally different story throughout, which suggests this model of the story — and the method it falls into that irritating outdated trope — is completely Haigh’s imaginative and prescient. Did that side hassle you in any respect?

Pete, the case towards: That’s very attention-grabbing, and I’m glad you introduced that into the dialog. I used to be curious about the supply materials, however hadn’t taken the step to look nearer into it but.

And sure, I’d be mendacity if I mentioned the litany of tales about homosexual love that finish in tragedy didn’t play a task right here. However I used to be much less bothered by comparable choices in different 2023 queer movies (examples redacted due to spoilers), so I really feel assured saying it’s not simply that.

Closing statements: What comes from darkness

Adam (Andrew Scott) stands shirtless and pensive in front of a window in his high-rise apartment in All of Us Strangers

Picture: Searchlight Photos/Everett Assortment

Tasha, the case for the ending: Finally, to me, the ending of All of Us Strangers is darkish, unhappy, and unusual, however none of these issues are knocks towards it — they arrive throughout as daring to me, and considerate. I think Haigh has clear solutions in thoughts for the questions we’ve posed right here, however he’s made it clear together with his cautious solutions in interviews that he doesn’t need to give them away. He desires individuals to contemplate them for themselves, and are available away from the movie moved, engaged, and primed for a dialogue. In that spirit, this ending completely labored for me.

Pete, the case towards: I nonetheless have quite a bit of love for All of Us Strangers, and I’m actually glad that an exquisite, aching queer love story that has thorny parts and takes on tough subjects has been in a position to join with audiences in such a powerful method. I don’t have an ideal image of what this film appears like with out the late twist, however as presently constructed, the ending simply didn’t land for me, and left a bitter style in my mouth after what was in any other case an exquisite expertise. And you understand what? I’m okay with that.

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