The Enigmatic Power of Love
Love is truly an enigmatic force. When it’s present in our lives, it can move us to indescribable degrees of joy, bliss and fulfillment. But, when it’s absent – particularly when it’s suddenly snatched away from us – it can leave us in the depths of despair, a sense of despondency from which we may often feel we’ll never escape. However, just when all seems lost, it can have a way of sneaking back into our lives, restoring what’s missing and helping us heal, both ourselves and sometimes others. It’s hard to imagine how one thing can do so much, but it’s true. And, if you doubt that, then make an effort to screen the new surrealistic romantic drama, “All of Us Strangers” (web site, trailer).
Adam (Andrew Scott), a middle-aged, modestly successful gay screenwriter, leads what appears to be a rather solitary life. He spends most of his days at home, an apartment in a modern, smartly apponted London high-rise that’s, surprisingly, mostly unoccupied. He fills his time attempting to write, channel surfing, noshing and striving to rally his motivation, but he doesn’t seem particularly bothered that he’s not more productive. It’s a somewhat lonely existence, but he doesn’t seem especially anxious about this, either, at least outwardly. But that pattern begins to change late one evening when a building fire alarm begins to sound.
As expected, Adam exits the building and, once outside, observes from the lack of lights turned on in the structure just how vacant it really is, an ironic metaphor mirroring the state of his own life. Not long after returning to his apartment, though, there’s an unexpected knock at his door. When Adam cautiously opens it, he finds a stranger with an open liquor bottle standing before him. The evidently inebriated visitor, another of the building’s few occupants, a middle-aged gay man named Harry (Paul Mescal), strives to strike up a conversation with his neighbor. Like Adam, Harry is apparently lonely, too. He mentions that he’s seen Adam around the building before but admits that he made no effort to speak with him. This time, however, he coyly attempts a less-then-subtle flirtation. Harry even tries to invite himself in, but his advances go nowhere. Adam politely rebuffs Harry’s offer and says his good nights.
Afterward, however, the surprise incident gets Adam thinking about his existence and what Harry’s impulsive invitation might have led to. In fact, it prompts some concerted soul-searching and reflection about his life in general, going all the way back to the time when he was a young lad (Carter John Grout). He spontaneously then decides to visit the London suburbs where he grew up, including a stop at his childhood home and a meeting with his parents (Jamie Bell, Claire Foy), whom he hasn’t seen for some time. The three of them get caught up on what’s been happening in Adam’s life. He informs them about what he’s been doing, including his career accomplishments and personal life – things that one might think they should already know about. But, then, that in itself shows just how long they’ve not been a part of Adam’s life. Thus begins a surreal journey into the lives of these three long-separated family members – and how that separation has played out in Adam’s existence and shaped his outlook on life. It reveals just how lonely he is – and how he got that way.
Adam’s interaction with his parents proves valuable in many ways, however. It helps him heal from his loneliness. It helps him bring closure to their longstanding unexpected estrangement. And it helps him reassess the new possibilities now open to him, both for himself and, potentially, with Harry. And the key to making all this happen is that aforementioned enigmatic force – love.
Of course, it’s not just love in itself that can accomplish all this. It depends on what we do with it, which, in turn, is driven by what we think and believe about it. And that’s crucial considering the role that our beliefs play in manifesting the reality we experience. It’s hard to say how many of us are aware of this school of thought and how it can be employed, but it nevertheless offers us many choices and possibilities, especially in terms of how we make use of it in creating what we experience. And, when there are opportunities for us to employ it in significantly meaningful ways, it can be a viable option for bringing about what we want – and need – to make our lives better.
Before making our lives better, however, we must first grasp where we stand with regard to this force, and that’s something Adam must do for himself before he begins making any changes. As the film opens, he obviously recognizes that things aren’t quite what they should be, but he doesn’t seem to be able to specifically identify what’s wrong (hence his lingering ennui) or how to change it. However, when Harry appears, he begins to get a sense of how his circumstances might be rectified, even if he’s initially cautious and skeptical and takes no action to move forward. That hesitancy, however, nevertheless gets the ball rolling with his analysis of his status and his search for answers. And, fortunately for him, he has enough insight to recognize that examining his life – and how he got there – is the key, specifically assessing the question of his feelings about love and what altering them might do for him.
Before long, when he visits his past and his relationship with his parents, he begins the process of exploring this subject. One meeting with Mum and Dad soon lead to others, both individually with each of them and collectively with both. And the revelations that come about through those sessions show Adam aspects of himself and his outlook on life that he hadn’t previously recognized or considered. Not only does this enable Adam to reconcile himself with his past, but it also provides him with the means to confidently move forward with a renewed connection with Mum and Dad and a loving and fulfilling relationship with Harry. These perceptions allow him to get in touch with his beliefs and help him understand how and why his existence has unfolded as it has. That’s a big step for someone who has been lost and directionless for some time, especially when it comes to getting the most out of a life that has otherwise seemed largely empty.
But there’s more to it than this. Adam heals from what’s been a sometimes-troubled past, a development that helps him get over what has been holding him back all along. He sees this through his interactions with his past, his parents and his younger self, as well as his involvement with Harry, who has experienced a comparably troubling past and is himself also looking to heal. These circumstances essentially provide Adam with a highly personal mirror to scrutinize himself to see where his existence has gone awry and how he might fix it going forward. At the same time, this scenario has provided him with the means to help heal others by healing himself and using that experience to make a difference in their lives. And it all stems from his beliefs about love and how he embraces them. That’s quite a powerful tonic indeed, one we can all draw upon in making matters right in our own lives when the need arises, something that many of us can likely relate to these days.
In a movie awards season that has had more misses than hits, it’s gratifying to see a picture that not only lives up to, but exceeds, its potential. Such is the case with writer-director Andrew Haigh’s latest offering, a heartwarming and heartbreaking story of love, reflection and healing all rolled into one, based on the 1987 novel Strangers by Taichi Yamada. To say too much more about the film would invariably lead to a plethora of spoilers, but suffice it to say that it delivers the goods on virtually every front. This is one of those pictures that’s just about perfect in nearly every regard thanks to its stringent adherence to authenticity in the writing and the affecting portrayals of its positively stellar cast, especially the highly underrated performance by Foy, who, save for a BAFTA Award nomination for best supporting actress, has puzzlingly flown largely under the radar. It’s also a production that will likely surprise viewers in myriad ways, defying expectations in telling a story that’s anything but apparent from what’s in its promotional trailer, not to mention in its initial sequences and their depictions of what’s actually going on. Moreover, I’m impressed by the fact that this is an offering featuring gay characters in which their sexuality is not the principal focus of the narrative, something that truly distinguishes this feature from so many others in this genre. Granted, their orientation is part of the story, but it’s not the story; that belongs to the force of love at work in the lives of the principals. Add to these noteworthy attributes a sensitively chosen soundtrack and some surprisingly innovative cinematography, and you’ve got one helluva fine movie. To be sure, this is one of those releases that, if it doesn’t touch you profoundly, you’d better check to see if you have ice water coursing through your veins. This superb offering richly deserves whatever accolades it receives. It’s one of the year’s best, bar none.
“All of Us Strangers” has received its share of honors in this year’s awards season, most notably six BAFTA Award nominations, including best British film, best director, best adapted screenplay, best casting, best supporting actor (Mescal) and best supporting actress (Foy). It has also earned three Independent Spirit Award nods for best feature, director and lead performance for Scott, who also captured a Golden Globe nomination for best dramatic actor. In addition, the film received a Critics Choice Award nomination for best adapted screenplay while also being named one of 2023’s Top 10 Independent Films by the National Board of Review. With all these accolades, however, it’s truly mystifying how this title failed to earn any Oscar nominations, a major, inexplicable and inexcusable snub. Nevertheless, despite this oversight, this is a picture well worth seeing in its current theatrical distribution.
As this film shows, the power of love can indeed work miracles. It can help us to let go of what no longer serves us. It can help us heal what ails us. It can enable us to get on with our lives, removing the stagnation that keeps us locked in place. And it can bring us fulfillment beyond imagination. We, of course, need to believe in that power to make it work, but, when we do, we can easily be astounded by what it can accomplish. If someone as lonely and lost as Adam can benefit from it, there’s no reason why we can’t as well. Should we do so, we may find life more worth living than we thought possible, and what a miracle that would be.
A complete review is available by clicking here.
New Movies for You
Join yours truly and show host Frankie Picasso for looks at six new films, as well as a few surprises, on the upcoming movie review edition of the Frankiesense & More video podcast, to begin airing on a special day and time, Thursday February 1 at 1 pm ET. Tune in on Facebook or YouTube for all the fun and lively discussion!
Thank You for Your Support!
Many sincere thanks to the listeners and viewers of our movie review podcast, Frankiesense & More, for making 2023 such a successful year! Host Frankie Picasso and I are grateful for the 25% increase in our audience that we experienced last year! At The Good Media Network, we’re pleased to say we now have cinephiles tuning in around the globe in 8 countries, and we hope to see more join us in the year ahead. To those who have recently come on board, welcome and many thanks for your support. And, to our loyal fans who have been ongoing listeners of our free-wheeling yet meaningful look at the movies, thank you for staying with us. You can catch our broadcasts on Facebook Live, with recorded versions to follow on Facebook, YouTube, Spotify and other streaming services. Wishing you all the best — and fun times at the movies!
The Best, the Worst and the Documentaries of 2023
With 2023 in the books, it’s time for my year-end movie lists – the best, the worst and the documentaries. I know not all of you will agree with my selections, but I’m willing to respect your choices if you do the same with mine. Happy reading, and enjoy!
What We Believe We Recall
How we remember our past is something we can all bank on, right? Or is it? For instance, what happens when mitigating influences impact our memory, potentially causing it to become fallible and untrustworthy? Can we truly rely on our recall then? Those are among the questions raised in the new unconventional romantic thriller, “Memory” (web site, trailer).
Life hasn’t been easy for Sylvia (Jessica Chastain). She has had to struggle to put her life back together after an apparently very troubled past, something she quietly keeps to herself but that is always with her. The recovering alcoholic diligently keeps it all in balance, though, working as a staff member at a New York City adult day care center. As a single mother, she also attentively tends to the needs of her teenage daughter, Anna (Brooke Timber), and regularly attends AA meetings, a tremendous source of comfort and support. She doesn’t have much of a social life, but that helps to keep her focused on what matters most, particularly those aspects of her routine that draw her attention away from what she’s left behind.
Things change one evening, however, when Sylvia goes to her high school reunion, an event she has obvious mixed feelings about attending. Once there, she feels somewhat out of place, especially when she witnesses her onetime peers celebrating their successes with various forms of imbibing that she can’t partake of for fear of undoing all the progress she’s made. Being in their company also reminds her of the difficulties she dealt with in her youth, prompting her to largely keep to herself. The stress eventually reaches a point where she feels she has to leave. But that’s not the end of the discomfort.
Upon heading home from the reunion, she finds herself being followed by one of her former classmates. Her uneasiness grows as he continues to pursue her, first on the streets, then on the subway platform and eventually to her destination. He makes no threatening moves, but his pursuit is persistent, following her right up to the front door of her apartment building. Sylvia hurriedly heads inside, slamming the door shut to prevent his entry. But, despite the safety provided her by being indoors, the stranger remains outside, eventually falling asleep and spending the night on the sidewalk. Sylvia’s creeped out by the experience, but at least he couldn’t get to her inside. Nevertheless, when morning comes, she still has to deal with the aftermath of the incident when she heads out for the day.
Once outside, Sylvia confronts the middle-aged man, whose name is Saul (Peter Sarsgard). She asks him if there’s someone she should contact on his behalf, which she soon discovers is his brother, Isaac (Josh Charles), an apparent caretaker for the troubled man. When Sylvia reaches Isaac, she learns that Saul suffers from early onset dementia, a condition that seriously affects his memory and actions. It’s so severe, in fact, that he can’t even explain why he chose to follow Sylvia home from the reunion. But, with no apparent ulterior motive, he doesn’t seem to be threatening, a development that helps put Sylvia’s mind at ease – that is, until they begin talking further about their past.
While discussing their high school days, Sylvia has an apparent epiphany about their onetime involvement. The growing comfort she had begun developing with Saul quickly evaporates when memories begin flooding back to her about the sexual abuse she believes he inflicted upon her as a teen, a revelation that awakens tremendous ire in her. The cordial arm’s-length relationship that was beginning to emerge between them vanishes in an instant when she chastises him for what she’s convinced he did to her.
However, that’s not the end of it. While discussing the situation with her sister, Olivia (Merritt Wever), Sylvia learns that the incidents she “remembers” couldn’t have happened, given that she and Saul didn’t attend their alma mater at the same time. And, when confronted with proof that their tenure didn’t overlap, Sylvia is shocked and mystified, not only at this revelation, but also that her memory is faulty on this point. Does this mean she’s suffering from dementia, too? Or is her flawed recall the result of blocked memories from her own past that she’s not ready to address?
Sylvia seeks to make amends for her erroneous accusations with Saul, a difficult but noble effort at rectifying the charges she mistakenly leveled against him. And, somewhat to her surprise, she finds him to be graciously forgiving, probably because he understands all too well what can arise from issues related to faulty memory. Consequently, they grow unexpectedly closer given the unusual commonality they share. And, at the behest of Saul’s niece, Sara (Elsie Fisher), Sylvia even takes a job as his daytime caretaker, given that she’s ostensibly the one person to whom he responds favorably. Thus begins an increasingly intimate relationship among two individuals who share a connection, one based on mutual compassion and, apparently, the ability to help heal each other where their respective conditions are concerned. Who would have thought that a bond like this could emerge in light of how things started out?
This naturally begs the question, how could a relationship like this have arisen? As their story shows, they have qualities in common, namely, those related to memory. And they prove to be crucial to the development of their connection, because they allow them to interact on a level that only they can understand. The fact that memory is involved is particularly relevant, given that memories are rooted in beliefs and that beliefs form the basis of our respective realities. It’s unclear whether the protagonists are aware of this school of thought, but it’s also apparent that they both need to draw upon it if they ever hope for circumstances to change in their lives.
Specifically, both Sylvia and Saul have issues related to memory that need to be resolved, and what better way to make that happen than to have a loving, caring partner to help guide one another through the process, a kindred spirit who truly grasps what the other is going through and needs to reconcile in order to begin moving forward in life once again. In their own unique way, they’ve made that happen by drawing each other together to enable such an outcome. The manner in which they’ve made this happen may seem more than a little unconventional to most of us, but, considering the unconventional circumstances they have to deal with, it’s not all that surprising for this to occur in light of the specific issues they’re up against. Unique conditions call for the materialization of unique solutions, including those related to the means to make this happen.
Then there’s the question of mistaken recall. Saul is well acquainted with this, given the onset of his dementia. But that perspective, in its own singular way, is helpful to Sylvia, who suffers from a similar condition, regardless of whether or not dementia is involved. She firmly believes in a memory that doesn’t hold water, but coming to terms with that erroneous recollection is key to unlocking the truth – the actual memory that she’s willfully chosen to disbelieve and not act upon. Saul’s condition and his insights related to it are thus essential to helping Sylvia understand this for herself, something she needs to do if she wants to clear this blockage.
That concealed memory also helps to explain why Sylvia’s life has unfolded as it has to this point. Something about that hidden truth and her unwillingness to believe in its nature could very well have been too painful for her to live with, a circumstance that, in turn, led to the alcoholism and other troubling behaviors she engaged in during her youth. These conditions were so devastating to her, in fact, that they apparently kept her locked in place for a long time, necessitating a slow and arduous process to recover from them. The progress that she made through her involvement with AA certainly helped her a great deal, but, even though this enabled her to get her life back on track from a practical standpoint, it wasn’t enough to get over the beliefs that were ultimately unnerving her most.
That’s where Saul comes in. He provides “a customized solution” to help her address her own particular challenges, something that could only come about as a result of the specific beliefs she put forth to make it happen. It’s clear proof that, if we want results tailored to what we need, we must tap into beliefs that are equally tailored to what we hope to achieve.
The relationship between Sylvia and Saul is also an excellent example of co-creation at work, a collaboration between the two of them to achieve outcomes that serve them both. This pooling of energies and efforts illustrates what can arise when we work together for the betterment of one another, an initiative that can benefit each other in so many ways (and simultaneously at that). It truly is a case of slaying multiple birds with one stone – and setting us on a vastly improved course for the future, all at the same time, no matter how unusually such an endeavor might begin.
“Memory” is one of those films that takes viewers to unexpected destinations while simultaneously enlightening us to surprise insights that we can draw upon in our own lives if we choose to believe in and embrace them. Writer-director Michel Franco has created an engaging, subtle but impactful story here, one that sheds light on the power of belief behind our memories and how those recollections can shape the existence we experience as a result, for better or worse. All of this is brought to life through a skillfully crafted narrative, effectively fleshed out through the superb performances of Sarsgaard and Independent Spirit Award nominee Chastain. Admittedly, the picture’s first half could benefit from some stepped-up pacing, most notably the elimination of some sequences that are occasionally redundant and moderately tiresome. However, the intrigue and engagement ramp up significantly in the picture’s back end, some of which is ironically accomplished through deftly handled nuance rather than the overly subdued understatement more prevalent in the opening half. Clearly, this is one of those releases that requires viewers to give it some time to develop, but the payoff for doing so is worth it in the end. If nothing else, “Memory” provides us with a fresh perspective on its central theme while showing us how “like can cure like” in a psychological therapeutic process, an approach that can yield rewards beyond measure.
As this film illustrates, memory can be a funny thing. However, its underrecognized pliability can prove useful in helping us understand ourselves and our circumstances more fully and clearly. That can also work wonders in helping us clear the clutter in our consciousness that’s holding us down, holding us back and keeping us from enjoying what life genuinely has to offer us. A little effort in this area can pay big dividends – and even bigger and happier memories that we can carry forward with us into our futures.
A complete review is available by clicking here.
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