9 Stories That Prove Strangers Are Undeniably Intriguing
There is a powerful, inexplicable energy in the universe that can create limitless possibilities—the energy between complete strangers. Without knowing anything about someone, they could be anybody and your relationship is a blank book waiting to be written. From that energy, a million different emotions can be harnessed: pulse-racing tension, irresistible chemistry, the most surprisingly heartwarming moments, and everything in between. That’s why a pair of perfect strangers is the foundation to so many unforgettable stories, especially on screen. We’ve rounded up some of our favorites on Topic, so you can become acquainted with a whole new cast of strangers.
You may have heard his popular podcast of the same name, but comedian Chris Gethard has now brought “Beautiful/Anonymous” to the screen. In his new series with Topic, the premise is the same: he tweets out a number, an anonymous person dials in, and the two of them talk about whatever the caller wants to talk about for 30 completely unfiltered minutes. One caller gushes about finding true love after realizing that she’s “super gay.” Another takes Chris, and viewers, on a roller coaster ride through the wackiest memories and lowest troughs of his life before ending with a very peculiar crush confession. Regardless of what their story is, their anonymity allows them to bare it all without judgment. Who needs therapy when you have Chris Gethard?
How far would you go to save a stranger? Upscale New Yorker Katie has lived a life of privilege, but when she answers an unknown caller one night, her entire world is turned upside down. On the other line is a dying man, struggling to speak through explosions and gunshots. As he takes his last breaths, he pleads with Katie to help his pregnant wife, Tala. Unable to shake the call, Katie becomes consumed with finding this mystery woman and soon gets entangled in a dark web of medical experimentations, human trafficking, and military cover-ups. But is she really risking everything in her life to find a woman she’s never met, or is she only trying to lose herself?
Hong Sangsoo is certainly no—pardon the pun—stranger to this theme. And he’s never relied on the mystery of strangers more so than he does in this film. At the center is a young woman at a cafe named Areum (played by Hong’s longtime muse, Kim Min-hee), who types on her laptop as the customers around her enact dramas from their lives. A couple throws serious accusations at each other, an old man tries to reignite a flame with a younger woman, and a narcissistic filmmaker works on his project. Is she typing what she overhears or is she hearing what’s been written? At first glance, the film’s narrative might feel passive, but just like eavesdropping on a stranger’s conversation, what starts out as a nonchalant observation can pull you in deep without warning.
Every decision, no matter how mundane, can have dangerous consequences. In Copenhagen, eight strangers go about their business, but unbeknownst to them, their every move will lead them to a shocking event that will forever change their lives. We meet a single mother and her young daughter, a homeless addict trying to get back on track, and the Danish Attorney General, among others. The gripping series follows these individuals nine days before a horrific terrorist attack, revealing the seemingly small actions that set things in motion, and nine days after, when they become inextricably intertwined in the aftermath. Through their pain, healing, and second chances, these strangers gradually become entirely new versions of themselves.
We’ve been taught that there are some topics one should never bring up over dinner. At the top of that list is probably death. In this docuseries, that notion is thrown out the window as the global movement Death Over Dinner encourages friends, colleagues, and total strangers to get together and talk about dying. It may sound morbid, but the movement’s objective is to help people share, process, and understand their feelings about death so they can build better relationships with their own mortality. Next to karaoke, this might be the quickest way to get to know a group of strangers.
If you’re going to fall in love with a complete stranger anywhere, make it Paris. In this love letter to the City of Light, 12 prominent directors (think Alfonso Cuarón, Wes Craven, and the Coen Brothers) present 12 vignettes across the city’s various neighborhoods and arrondissements. Featuring the likes of Natalie Portman, Elijah Wood, and Steve Buscemi, the stories provide plenty of fateful stranger magic. A woman faints next to a man’s car. A man fantasizes about a shop clerk. A young backpacker falls in love with a beautiful vampire. Each tender and heartfelt in its own unique way, these stories will make you look at everyone you pass as a potential love interest.
What is the line between foreigner and stranger? Can you be one without the other? In 2013, the Israeli government deemed its roughly 40,000 African asylum seekers “infiltrators” and began imprisoning them in detention centers. Following the story of a political activist named Anwar, who escaped Sudan only to be thrown in a desert detention facility for 20 months, this short film offers a sobering look at the heavy cost of seeking refuge in a foreign land, where some people are unable to become anything more than a stranger.
“We want what you have.” In this suspenseful series, a group of strangers with nothing in common except their residence on Pepys Road all receive postcards marked with these words. Who’s “we” and what exactly do they want? The neighborhood’s recent rapid gentrification has attracted an influx of wealthy banker types, but residents also include an elderly woman who’s been living in her house for decades and a Pakistani immigrant family who own a local deli. As the postcards keep coming and the investigation deepens, the property prices continue to skyrocket, an uneasy warning that the bubble that is Pepys Road might soon burst.
What if the person you thought you knew and loved most suddenly became a stranger in your eyes? On the surface, Chris and Gitti appear to be a happy couple on vacation in sunny Sardinia, but as the days stretch on, their playful teasing and banter takes on a new edge and hidden fears and desires start to reveal themselves. When they run into another seemingly happier and more successful couple, tensions erupt. For anyone who has ever wondered to themselves, “How well do I really know my partner?” this film is for you.