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The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

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Column | Caitlin Clark adapts to life in the WNBA
Column | Caitlin Clark adapts to life in the WNBA
By James Carter, Staff Writer • 1:28 am
Opinion | NHL needs to bring specialty jerseys back
By Jameson Keebler, Senior Staff Columnist • June 19, 2024
Opinion | Hold your elected officials morally responsible
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • June 18, 2024

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Column | Caitlin Clark adapts to life in the WNBA
Column | Caitlin Clark adapts to life in the WNBA
By James Carter, Staff Writer • 1:28 am
Opinion | NHL needs to bring specialty jerseys back
By Jameson Keebler, Senior Staff Columnist • June 19, 2024
Opinion | Hold your elected officials morally responsible
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • June 18, 2024

Meaning at the Movies | ‘All of Us Strangers’: All of us grieving

Meaning at the Movies is a biweekly blog that analyzes the depth and beauty behind different films.
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People ask me a lot if I like being an only child and usually I say that I do — which is true. I’ve always relished in my independence and freedom. But being an only child comes with an extra weight, one that grows heavier as you grow up and come to realize more and more that your parents won’t be here forever, and that as much as you build a life out of that original family, one day you’ll be the only one left. 

In many ways, this is the pillar around which Andrew Haigh’s 2023 film “All of Us Strangers” is built. The film follows screenwriter Adam — portrayed by Andrew Scott — as he embarks on a journey to write about his childhood, while also falling in love with his neighbor Harry, who is played by Paul Mescal. 

However, there is an interesting twist to this narrative. As Adam is writing about his family for a screenplay, he immerses himself back into his childhood. Adam begins to imagine himself as a grown adult in his childhood home, stuck in time with his parents before they tragically died in a car accident when he was 12. 

This reimagining allows him to have new conversations with his late parents. Adam effectively comes out to them and confronts his father as to why he never comforted him as a young child. This imaginary life runs parallel to his love story with Harry. Harry helps him heal and brings him back into the world before the two storylines collide in an impossibly devastating way. 

This is a movie about a lot of things — grief, queerness, love, loss. It handles each one deftly and kindly, with so much love, care, attention and nuance that it takes your breath away. But for me, the thing I found most striking was Adam telling his parents about all the life they missed out on, all the versions of him they never got to see. 

The present Adam is older than his parents lived to be. He has literally lived more life than them, more life without them, but still he is longing for them. Adam wants to be known, he wants to be loved and he wants that from his parents. He has this deep, desperate longing for them to be able to see him now, to know him now, to love him now. 

Our parents are people we’re always tethered to. Specifically for only children, they become even bigger, more looming and important figures. When you’re an only child, your parents are your whole world — they are the center of your home, of support, of life. And to know that these people who you love so deeply and cling so tightly to will not get to see every version of yourself is devastating. 

Adam’s situation is very different from my own. His parents died unexpectedly when he was 12. Mine are still very much alive, but they’re also older, both turning 60 just before my 20th birthday last year. There is still this deep cutting feeling of there not being enough time and a desperation for more. There is this deep aching sadness in knowing your parents may not get to grow that old with you. 

In the final scene with Adam’s parents, his father tells him, “But I do love you very much. Somehow, even more, now that I know you.” This was the moment when watching the film that I felt my heart burst open. To be known is to be loved, and in this imaginative space, Adam’s father is offering him that love as an adult and not just as the little 12-year-old boy that he left behind. 

The ache of this moment lies not just in the knowledge that his parents didn’t get to see him to adulthood, but also in the fact that this is the moment where Adam is letting them go. Adam is saying goodbye to these fantasy versions of his parents, knowing that he has gotten some kind of closure and has to move on. He accepts the fact that he can hold them close to his heart, but that they can no longer be physically with him.

Adam is able to arrive at this understanding because of the love he receives from Harry and the ways in which he is able to connect with him and open up. Adam begins to find love in the world again, beyond the loss of his parents, and that love in turn is what enables him to begin to reckon with his parents death. 

That kind of attachment is something that is really scary for Adam. He tries to initially push Harry away, attempting to keep to himself, until eventually Harry pushes in and Adam responds. Adam doesn’t just simply find the strength to examine his grief within himself — he is able to build it and understand it by allowing himself to be loved. 

In Adam’s responses, I saw pieces of myself. I saw the fears about being too much, about carrying too much pain and being too much of a mess. I saw the kind of loneliness that only children learn as they begin to realize their family won’t be there forever, at least not the way it started. 

When Adam describes losing his parents, he says, “I’d always felt lonely, even before. This was a new feeling. Like a terror, that I’d always be alone now. And then as I got older, that feeling just solidified. Just a knot here all the time. And then losing them, it just got tangled up with all the other stuff, about being gay and just feeling like the future doesn’t matter.” 

Adam’s grief and his pain twist themselves together into something hard and jagged within himself, leaving a vast sense of loneliness in his soul.

But with the presence of someone else, of someone loving, Adam is able to begin to untwist that pain and make it less jagged. The pain doesn’t necessarily leave. There is still a deep and longing ache for his parents, pain over the way he was treated for being gay, ache at so much of his history. That doesn’t just go away. Instead, it becomes more understood, more spoken, more cared for. When Adam is able to let someone in, then he is able to begin to more clearly find and understand himself. 

The film is ultimately remarking on the handling of grief and connection together, an understanding of loneliness and longing, but also so much love. The viewer comes to an understanding that there is a family you have and a family you build. They will feel different, and be different, and there will be loss in it, but they can both be good. For me — as someone who is learning how to be my own person while also holding my parents close to my heart and cherishing our time together — this film really hit home.