Gay loneliness and familial trauma take center stage in ‘All of Us Strangers’

Haigh, 50, calls “All of Us Strangers” his most personal film to date. The auteur said he was keen to convey the particular challenges faced by gay men like him who were born during the 1970s. Members of this “middle generation,” he noted, were largely spared the waves of AIDS-crisis deaths. And yet they had to come to grips with their sexuality under the shadow of that epidemic and during a corresponding period of virulent homophobia.

In Adam, Haigh sought to personify how these twin traumas could be as responsible for maintaining a gay man’s emotional paralysis as a car crash killing his parents at the dawn of his adolescence. 

During his own coming of age, Haight said, he was left to wonder, “‘How on earth do I ever get to live? How do I ever get to have a relationship?’”

Andrew Haigh, left, on the set of “All of Us Strangers.”Chris Harris / Searchlight Pictures

As Harry melts Adam’s defenses, he asks the older man whether he’d fancy having intercourse. Adam says he would — and then reveals that for a long time, he had avoided penetrative sex entirely, “for obvious reasons.” Belonging to the more sexually carefree younger gay generation that has only known HIV as a treatable infection, Harry naively asks why. 

Adam replies that he thought that if he did, he might die.

Like the screenwriter Adam, Haigh has also trafficked in television. He was an executive producer and lead writer-director for HBO’s “Looking,” (2014-2016) during its two-season run, which culminated in a TV movie. The series divided audiences, with detractors expecting more zest than its deliberately low-stakes gay melodrama cared to offer. “White Lotus,” it was not.

The loss of loved ones stands at the center of all four of Haigh’s feature films. The protagonists in “Weekend,” the coming-of-age odyssey “Lean on Pete” (2017) and “All of Us Strangers” each lost both parents in childhood. And the chilly marriage at the center of “45 Years” (2015), a film that earned British film icon Charlotte Rampling an Oscar nomination, is pushed into a quiet crisis by revelations about the long-ago death of the husband’s previous lover.

Haigh’s own parents are, notably, still living. But they suffered a painful divorce when he was about 8 years old that coincided with his internal battles over his nascent sexuality. As an artist, he said, he keeps returning to the theme “of being completely unmoored and terrified at a certain time in your life.” 

Orphanhood is a principal trope in his work, he said, because “as gay people we feel like we’re separated and forced away from our families,” even if those loved ones are demonstrably accepting.

In a director’s take on method acting, Haigh dove so deeply into his past that he arranged to shoot the “All of Us Strangers” homecoming scenes in the very suburban London house where his family lived prior to its own schism. And just as the stirred-up sediment of the past provokes headaches in Adam, the soft-spoken and sensitive Haigh endured a recurrence of the eczema he had weathered in childhood as his crew quite literally re-created his family home for the Mum-and-Dad scenes.

In one such scene, the film probes the source of Adam’s loneliness after he haltingly comes out to Mum. She is at first curtly disapproving, in a very British affectation of the homophobic mores of her time. “They say it’s a very lonely kind of life,” she says, attempting sympathy. Wincing, Adam counters: “They don’t actually say that anymore.” If gay people are lonely, he insists, it’s no longer because they’re pariahs; those days are long gone. “Everything’s different now.” 

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button