All of Us Strangers spoilers follow.
Back when All of Us Strangers first premiered on the festival circuit, critics who frequent Gay Twitter™ hinted at one particular sex scene that got everyone talking.
Well, not the sex itself. Not exactly. It's what happens after that excited people so much.
Adam (Andrew Scott) rejects Harry (Paul Mescal) at first after he shows up drunk outside his flat one night, babbling about vampires at the door. But then a chance second encounter in the strangely empty building they share leads to something deeper.
"I've been thinking about you," Harry tells Adam. "I've been thinking about sucking your cock."
There's a hunger to Paul Mescal's delivery that the usually shy Adam finds impossible to resist. Adam's walls come down as Paul enters the flat and then enters him in the first of many sex scenes that take place throughout All of Us Strangers.
Across previous projects like Weekend and Looking, director Andrew Haigh built a reputation for the way he shoots such moments so intimately, and the key is the emotional intimacy that he brings to that physical act.
This combination comes to a head (no pun intended) early on when Harry licks cum off Adam's chest, post-coitus. While the specificity of that moment might be lost on some who mistake the semen for sweat, gay audiences know exactly what's happening there.
It's shocking in the sense that this particular sex act isn't often depicted on screen (outside of the videos you watch alone on your laptop). But the moment itself passes by quick, and there's no lingering on what happened for mere shock value. It's worlds away from the bathtub antics of Saltburn, for example.
Sex on screen can often lack intimacy, especially in typical Hollywood fare. There's rarely much connection beyond the physical and that's assuming the sex is even shown on screen these days. But Haigh knows that this physical intimacy can say a great deal, that the thrill of enjoying another person's body can cement the connection between two people like nothing else.
That moment Harry licks the cum off of Adam's chest, just like the handjob in the bath or even the way they spoon each other, is one of many small milestones that bring these two lonely people closer together. Despite everything that takes place between Adam and his parents, it's this central relationship that the movie's ending, and therefore the movie itself, hinges on.
That means every single moment of connection, be it physical or emotional, is key to the devastating impact of Haigh's script. Yet that chest scene is arguably the most important, unlocking everything that follows.
Adam reveals early on that he's been afraid of sex for as long as he can remember because he grew up during the height of the AIDS crisis. For men of that generation, the joy of sex turned to fear as just one casual encounter could quickly become a death sentence. This in turn stoked more prejudice in the media, making it even harder for gay men to come out without fear of hate or disgust.
It's no wonder that men like Adam, raised in the '80s and '90s, internalised shame so deeply. If you grow up afraid of physical intimacy, of course you're going to struggle with emotional connections. That's why Adam has been alone for so long, and that's also why he's reluctant to let Harry in.
With that history in mind, the moment when Harry seductively tastes Adam's semen must have come as bit of a shock to Adam. Ingesting bodily fluids would have once been horrifying to him, it's something he would have never done himself, yet he doesn't hold Harry back or flinch. By giving into his new partner's desire, Adam begins to let down his walls when it comes to sex while also starting to overcome his trauma.
Harry has become a safe space for Adam where he can rediscover his sexuality all over again and heal. In taking this journey, Adam opens up in other ways too, most notably in how he reveals his true self to his parents.
It's a difficult conversation to have, especially with his mother, but by sharing the kind of conversations he was robbed of having earlier in life, Adam frees himself of shame, enabling him to love Harry more deeply.
It's the sex and the connection it brings that first shifts something inside of Adam. And that's why the final scene has become the biggest talking point now in light of the movie's release.
Because yes, the sex scenes are hot and exciting, but it's the emotional connection they help form that makes the end so devastating, and it's impossible to imagine All of Us Strangers without them.
All of Us Strangers is out now in cinemas.
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