All of Us Strangers Ending Explained Review

Strangers by Taichi Yamada (1987)

All of Us Strangers directed by Andrew Haigh (2023)

This movie is currently available to stream on Hulu (as of Feb 23), and I highly recommend it! And now I am going to jump right into spoilers.

Adam and Hideo

The book takes place in Japan and the movie takes place in England, which means the characters have different names. In the book Hideo is a 47 (nearly 48) year old screenwriter who has recently gotten divorced. He was the one who wanted the divorce, but once he convinced his wife, it didn’t take her too long to be on board and happy that he had suggested it. He felt they were in a loveless marriage and it would be better to end things. They have one son in college who Hideo doesn’t see much.

Due to the divorce, he was tight on money and so moved into his office to live. The building is empty at night, since it is mostly used for work, however there is at least one other woman, Kei, living in the building.

Early in the book, another man who works in TV who has hired Hideo many times in the past, tells him they can no longer work together because this man wants to begin a relationship with Hideo’s ex-wife. This man also chides Hideo for not spending more time with his son.

In the movie, Adam is a screenwriter in his late 40’s as well, living in a new apartment building that only has one other resident-Harry. In the movie Adam is gay and there is no ex-wife or son. In the movie he is working on script about his parents, whereas in the book he is working on an unrelated TV script.

In both, the other tenant comes to Adam/Hideo’s door one night while drunk and asks if they can come in saying how lonely and quiet it is. Adam/Hideo is cold to them, and says it isn’t a good idea and shuts the door.

His parents

After this encounter with Harry/Kei, Adam/Hideo decides to visit the house he grew up in with his parents. In the book, it is on his birthday and he is out buying a tie for himself as a birthday present but lies and tells the clerk it is a gift for someone else. He is feeling down and lonely, and when he sees a train going to his hometown, he decides to get on it.

As said, in the movie he is writing about his parents and going through some childhood things and then decides to go see the house in person.

In both we learn that his parents died when he was 12 years old. In the book, his mom had been pregnant and she and the husband were riding a bike to get somewhere when they were hit by a large car and killed. In the movie, they had been at a Christmas party and had been drinking, when they hit black ice on the way home and died. His dad died instantly, but the mom lived for a few more days in the hospital before dying.

In the movie, when he is getting to know Harry, he tells Harry that his parents died when he was a kid. Harry expresses his sincere sympathies at hearing this, to which Adam says, well it was a long time ago. Harry then says, yeah I don’t think that matters. I thought this was such a beautiful line.

But in both, he is walking around his hometown when he sees a man who looks just like his dad before he died. This man gets Adam’s/Hideo’s attention and says let’s go home.

In the book, Hideo spends the evening in his childhood home, with the two people who look just like his parents. None of them address who they are and Hideo thinks they are just a really friendly couple and he enjoys their company and tells himself they of course couldn’t actually be his parents. He does call them mom and dad though and they aren’t phased by it, but again, he thinks it just must be their friendly personalities. It isn’t until he comes by another time and just the mom is home. While talking to her he asks her name, she laughs and says something about how her own son is asking what her name is.

He then proceeds to visit them a number of times and through different conversations, sees a side of his parents that 12-year-old him hadn’t noticed. He also feels such a sense of security and love when he is with them. In the book he also asks them to teach him a card game he doens’t know how to play, thinking that if they are able to teach him, it will prove they aren’t a figment of his imagination.

In the movie, right away they talk about Adam’s childhood and it is clear they are his parents and he never doubts it. When he visits and it is just his mom, she asks him if he has a girlfriend, and this is when he tells her he is gay. The mom died in the early 80’s, and the questions she asks reflect that time period. The interaction doesn’t go very well and he eventually leaves. I thought this was such a great conversation though, he keeps telling her times are different now and it isn’t like it was in the 80’s for gay people. She tells him it will be a lonely life to which he says no it isn’t. She says, so you aren’t lonely? Clearly he is lonely though, so he says that if he is lonely, it isn’t due to him being gay.

He later goes to see them and his dad is there and the mom has told the dad. The dad says how he wasn’t surprised and had suspected it when he was a kid. This conversation between the two of them as Adam opens up about the bullying in school, and the father opening up about how he heard Adam crying in his room but didn’t’ want to comfort him because he didn’t want to face the truth was such an emotional scene. The dad apologizes for the times he made gay jokes that must have hurt Adam’s feelings, and how when he was young, he would have been one of the kids that would have bullied Adam and how he hadn’t wanted to face that fact when he was alive. Amongst talking about all of this pain, Adam says how he has good memories too and the dad then asks to hug him. We see in a reflection that Adam has become a child, being hugged by his dad-his inner child is finally getting that love and validation he had needed. Ugh, I cried multiple times in the movie, and this was definitely one of them.

In this version, the parents are more self-aware and will even ask questions about what happened after they died, and even ask if their deaths were quick or not. In the movie though we also don’t know if they are just a figment of his imagination, or actual ghosts. In the book they never acknowledge the fact that they died, and they don’t have these deep conversations either. The book it is more about just being around his parents again and doing the normal family things. There is a part though when the dad says they should toss a baseball and, in the book, we read, “I wanted so badly to play catch with him with that ball, but he’d always made excuses that he was too busy –until finally, just that once, he agreed to play with me, with a rubber ball. He was all wrapped up in the league he belonged to with his sushi-shop buddies, and he didn’t put a high priority on playing catch with his son.”

Harry/Kei

In both, he later comes across Harry/Kei in the building and they apologize for the other night when they were drunk. He tells them not to worry, and suggests they get together sometime. In both by the way, Harry/Kei is 15 to 20 years younger than Adam/Hideo. This plays a part in both, but in the movie it was interesting to see how this age gap effected their experience being gay. Like Adam found the word queer hard to embrace because that was the word that was used as an insult, but for Harry the word gay is what was used. Then Adam worrying about AIDS, whereas Harry’s generation did worry about that.

In the movie, Harry later comes to Adam’s and they begin a relationship. They eventually go out to a club and Harry has what Adam assumes is coke but it is actually ketamine (another example of their age gap). We see them at this club, and then it turns into this dreamy/kind of trippy sequence where we see a montage of their relationship together, but then return to the club and see it was in Adam’s head. He then ends up at his parents’ house during Christmas and we get a beautiful scene of them decorating the tree, and Adam is begging his mom not to go to the Christmas party which is what caused their deaths. This scene continues to change until we finally see him wake up in his own home with Harry and Harry tells him he had been calling to his parents in the club, and so Harry took him home.

In the book, Kei comes over and the two of them begin a relationship but Kei has a bad burn on her chest that she refuses to let Hideo see. He continues to see his parents, and see Kei, but eventually Kei and others start telling him he looks horrible worn out and tired. When he looks at himself, he looks normal though and it isn’t until Kei is hugging him and praying out loud for Hideo to get help. He then suddenly feels weak, and when he looks in the mirror, he can see how himself how he truly looks and is shocked. He had told Kei about seeing his dead parents, and she says that it is killing him and he needs to stop. He tells her he has to see them one last time to say goodbye.

Book ending

In the book he goes to see his parents and tells them he can’t come by anymore. They decide to go out to eat to make the most of it and this is the first time in the story that the parents acknowledge that they are dead. Other people can see them though when they are out and about, so it isn’t like Hideo is the only one. But they go to a restaurant and his parents tell him how proud they are of him. As they are praising him, he says, “No I’m not,” I protested. “I’m nothing like the man you two seem to think I am. I failed as a husband and wasn’t much of a father, either. You two are fine folk- not me. You’re warm, so warm I was surprised. Everyone should have parents like you, my son included. And though I’ve played the devoted son with you, there’s no telling how I might have treated you if you’d lived all these years. My career? I’ve never produced anything truly great. I’m just a hack competing for-“

But he cuts off when he sees his parents beginning to fade away.

He is crushed and goes back home and spends more time with Kei. After it has been a while since saying goodbye to his parents, the man who is seeing his wife comes by his place. He had run into this guy when he had been seeing his parents and the guy had commented on how bad he looked. Now too, the man says he looks like death. Hideo is confused, because he should be looking better now that he wasn’t seeing his parents. This man reveals that he had seen Hideo with Kei, and after talking with the building manager, he found out Kei looks just like a woman who had lived in the building who had a scar on her chest who had killed herself like 6-8weeks ago (killed herself the same night she had tried to spend time with him).

Hideo and this man realize that Kei is a ghost and she is sucking the life from Hideo, she then appears in the hallway and she lashes out at Hideo and is angry at him before disappearing. Hideo had been fine with her killing him, but he no longer had real love for her and so Kei is has no choice to leave because she could only take his life if he loved her. Hideo is then put in a hospital where he gets better and he is able to be at peace about his strange summer with his parents and Kei and tries to see the way they helped him.

Movie ending

In the movie, Adam takes Harry to his parents’ house and while he is knocking on the windows to be let in, Harry is clearly distraught at how Adam is acting. The audience and Adam can see his parents inside though and he ends up blacking out and wakes up with his parents. He overhears them talking about how they need to put an end to this and tell him he can’t see them anymore. They ask about Harry though and when they ask if Adam is in love with him Adam says he has never been in love before and therefore doesn’t know what it feels like.

Since this is their last time together-in the movie Adam resists this, but the parents say it has to be this way-they decide to dine out. As in the book, they tell Adam how much they love him and how proud of him they are. When he says he hasn’t done anything worth note, they say that he is still here basically, and that in it of itself is something. They then fade away.

He returns to his apartment building and goes into Harry’s apartment which he has never seen before. Right away we know something is wrong, and he sees Harry died of an overdose the night he had come by for a drink. His ghost then comes in and Harry says how he had been so lonely that night and just needed some company. Adam tells him everything is okay and denies that his body is in the other room and says they can go back to his place. The movie ends with them holding each other, and then their image becomes a star in the sky.

I read an article in esquire that talks about the movie ending and we read,

“…the entire relationship between him and Adam was all a figment of Adam’s imagination. Adam has been Sixth Sensing throughout the whole film, either as a mental breakdown, disassociating, or a coping mechanism for the deep-seated trauma he still feels from the loss of his parents as a child. The almost maternal way Harry cared for Adam when he had a fever, for example, was wish fulfilment on Adam’s part: he wants a partner to care for him how his mother did, and he projected this role onto a fantasy version of Harry.

“But it doesn’t end there, as Harry reappears, in the same pink jumper he wore when he first visited Adam, and confirms that he’s dead (“I was so lonely that night”, he explains mournfully). The pair head back to Adam’s apartment. If this is the reality, Adam appears to reason, he wants to continue the delusion and live in his fantasy world. He has had to say goodbye to his parents – again – but he’s not letting go of the ghost of Harry, who never truly existed in the real-world relationship with Adam, and who seems to represent Adam’s inability to move on in life, and let people in.

“The past is where Adam wants to stay – or is he stuck in purgatory, as he’s also dead, as perhaps he has been right from the start? – and as he cosies up to Harry on his bed, the ending gets cosmic. As the pair form a heart formation, cuddled up to each other, a light begins to shine between them, which gets brighter as they recede into the blackness, and other stars begin to shine beside them. As Frankie Goes To Hollywood blares out, it’s “The Power Of Love” indeed, a force from above.”

Processing grief and trauma

Both movies deal with the main character who has had a stunted adulthood due to the death of his parents. In the book, Hideo is thinking, “As I see it now, the perpetual stress I had been under since the age of twelve had rendered me woefully inept at accepting the goodwill of others. Those who go through healthy childhoods learn that exhibiting a suitable degree of dependence is how one gains others’ love. But an unfortunate adolescence had deprived me of this secret, and the deficiency had gradually placed a chill on my relationship with my wife.”

In the end of both when he says goodbye to them, is when he is able to process their deaths and his grief. The movie has the added element of Adam being gay and growing up in a homophobic time and this adds a layer to his grief and trauma.

In the end of the book, the friend that helps with with Kei later says that what they saw hadn’t really happened and they were just a little crazy. Hideo says he thinks he had been just fine, and says a silent thank you to his parents as well as Kei.

Book vs Movie

I was halfway through the book when I went to see the movie, and I was shocked to find out Harry had been dead all along! It felt like the audience was being kicked while we were down because the movie was so emotional, and then to have him find Harry dead right after saying goodbye to his parents felt pretty devastating!

Them turning into a star almost makes me wonder is Adam is dead too by the end. We also never see Adam interact with anyone other than his parents and Harry throughout the whole movie, whereas in the book he talks to other people and other people even see the ghosts he is with. Usually, it is books that lean toward ambiguous endings, but here it was the movie that left you with questions whereas the book tied things up neatly in the end. Like his character, Yamada had been a screenwriter in real life though so maybe that is partly why he gave a more clear-cut ending. Taichi Yamada passed away in November 2023 by the way, rest in peace.

The movie takes out the fact that being with ghosts is killing him, but they have the added layer of Adam being gay which is a huge part of this story. Director Andrew Haigh is gay, and the house they used for Adam’s childhood home is Haigh’s real childhood home. Adaptations like this are some of my personal favorites, because I love when we see the director make changes to the script that reflect their own life. They aren’t changes that are made in order to make the movie more crowd pleasing, but they are changes that matter to the creator and make it more personal for them. He found this story compelling and related it himself as a gay man. I thought it was just so beautiful and poignant and had so many scenes with such incredible dialogue and the performances by everyone were out of this world. This was the first thing I have really seen with Andrew Scott who plays Adam, and wow, he was absolutely amazing.

While I did really like the book and would recommend it, and it does have some really sweet touching moments, it wasn’t nearly as powerful as the movie. I also prefer the movie ending over the book ending with Kei being angry at Hideo. So I will have to say that when it comes to book versus movie, the movie wins! I also thought the music throughout this movie was just perfect.

Final thoughts

Just a couple things I wanted to share here at the end, how the last few years I have been thinking more and more about time going by and about the past. Just recently I was thinking how I wish I could see one of my childhood bedrooms exactly as it was when I lived in it with my sisters, and the fact that it is literally impossible to go back and time and visit my childhood bedroom as it was, made me feel really sad for some reason. So this movie seemed to hit me at a time when I have been reflecting back on my own childhood more often. My parents are still alive, so I could relate in that aspect, but this book and movie really capture that feeling of nostalgia, but almost something even deeper than that. I don’t know how to explain it really, but almost like a pain in your gut you feel about the fact that you can never visit the past. But this captures the beauty of what it would be like if you could go back. Especially in the movie, since his parents had died before he could be openly gay plus they died before being queer was more widely accepted. So Adam being able to see them and get that experience of bonding with them and getting to hear them say they love him and are proud of him was just so incredibly touching. I didn’t mention the scene when he gets into bed with them and he talks to him mom about the fantasies he had of all the traveling they did together through the years, including doing to Disneyland when he was 14. Ugh, so heartbreaking and yet so sweet.

And lastly, this movie has a 1988 Japanese adaption called The Discarnates!