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Michael Balderston

All of Us Strangers ending explained: why does Adam see ghosts?

Jamie Bell and Claire Foy in All of Us Strangers.

NOTE: this post contains spoilers for the All of Us Strangers ending. Please check out how to watch All of Us Strangers if you haven't yet.

Andrew Scott, Paul Mescal and Claire Foy teamed up for a very different kind of ghost story in All of Us Strangers, but it turned out to be one of the best-reviewed movies of 2023 and is in the discussion for some Oscars. However, there are definitely some intriguing questions about what happens in All of Us Strangers that are worth exploring in more depth.

The movie, which was written and directed by Andrew Haigh from a novel by Taichi Yamada, is an emotional experience centered on Adam (Scott), a screenwriter living a quiet life. When he attempts to write about his childhood, he is drawn back to his family's home where he discovers the ghosts of his parents (Foy and Jamie Bell), who died in a car crash when he was a teen, living there as they were when they passed. At the same time, he is forming a romantic relationship with another lonely resident of his apartment building, Harry (Mescal). 

Why is Adam seeing the ghosts of his parents? What happens with Adam and Harry? Let's dive into these questions.

Why does Adam see ghosts?

All of Us Strangers begins with Adam living alone in a new apartment complex and struggling to write a project about his parents. Looking for inspiration he goes to the town where he grew up and walks around. As he is in the park, he notices a man who looks like his father, waving him to follow, which Adam does.

Eventually, they arrive back at Adam's childhood home, where he realizes that it is not just his father there, but also his mother, exactly as they were when they died. They invite him in and welcome him home. While never saying it, they are aware that they are ghosts and time has passed since their accident, but they are interested in interacting with their son again and seeing the man he has become. Adam, for his part, while surprised, takes it all in stride.

He continues to return to the house throughout the movie, where he has honest conversations with his parents he could never have when he was a child: like how he is gay, the complicated relationship with his father, regrets and fond memories.

Adam's parents are upfront with him that this will not last forever and eventually tell him he needs to stop coming to see them. They go to Adam's favorite restaurant as a child for one last chance to be together. There, they ask Adam about their death. He tells them it wasn't painful for either of them (a lie; his father died instantly but his mother suffered brutal injuries and died a few days later) and has one more emotional interaction before each of his parents fades away.

So why does Adam see the ghosts of his parents? 

It is never said how this happened, which leaves two potential options. The first is that Adam is simply imagining it all in his head and not actually having these interactions. The second option is that it is an unexplainable spiritual phenomenon (we don't see a wish or any kind of thing that would infer Adam intentionally manifested their reappearance). 

However it happened, the more important answer to why Adam sees these ghosts is because he needs to have these conversations to find emotional closure and acceptance for himself. And it's not just with his parents.

What happens with Adam and Harry?

Andrew Scott and Paul Mescal in All of Us Strangers (Image credit: Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)

The new apartment building Adam lives in only has a few residents, but one of them is Harry. After Harry spots Adam looking during a fire drill, he goes to Adam's apartment, drunk, asking if he wants to spend time together. Adam says no.

After Adam returns from seeing his parents' ghosts for the first time he runs into Harry again. This time he apologizes for not letting him in and is the one to ask if he'd like to spend some time together, which Harry agrees to.

They begin a relationship where Adam and Harry are able to be intimate with each other, physically and emotionally, including Adam talking to him about his parents (though not mentioning he is visiting their ghosts).

Things start to go awry though when Adam and Harry decide to go out to a club. Taking ketamine, Adam begins to have distorted thoughts and hallucinations, where he is looking for Harry or chasing after him on the train as he appears to be ignoring him. When Adam comes to though, Harry is with him and explains he had a bad episode with the drugs.

Adam decides he wants to take Harry to meet his parents, but doesn't tell him what they are doing. When they arrive at Adam's home it's late and no one answers, making Harry uncomfortable and thinking Adam is having another episode of some kind. But eventually, they see Adam's parents through a window, but they don't interact. Harry leaves in disbelief.

Adam then wakes in his childhood bed, possibly truly from the ketamine incident, and the final scenes with his parents play out.

When he returns to the apartment complex, Adam decides to go to Harry’s apartment to check on him. There he discovers Harry's body in the bed, dead, in what looks like the same clothes he wore the first night they met and the bottle of alcohol he had that night. Adam hears a noise and finds Harry there, but what we now realize is Harry's ghost. All of the interactions Adam and Harry had after that first night were similar to Adam's visits with his parents, either imagined by him or an unexplained spiritual event. 

Adam comforts Harry's ghost, who is upset no one has found his body (he previously mentioned an estrangement from his family over his being gay), and the two go up to Adam's apartment one last time. As they lie in bed, the scene pulls out to the point where they seem to be a single star in the night sky.

What does all this mean? These visions are key emotional discoveries for Adam. With his parents, it's about emotional closure for a chapter of his life, while Harry could be Adam learning to open himself up and find comfort in himself. 

With the stars, that's probably more up for interpretation, but personally, it feels like Adam has found peace in the vast, beautiful world again.

All of Us Strangers is currently playing in US movie theaters. It premieres in the UK on January 26.

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