Aftersun (2022)

by Afra Nariman

Aftersun (2022)

Director: Charlotte Wells

Stars: Paul Mescal, Frankie Corio


“Can’t we just stay here?”

Everything about this film is miraculous. Every frame is crafted with such an intuitive attention to detail. Very few films have as much genuine heart as this one. When I say “heart,” it is important to remember that the heart is where we feel both the peaks of love and the valleys of pain. Aftersun taps into all of it, from one instance to the next, and sometimes simultaneously. The film is delicate, it feels fragile; as if at any moment, the film itself could shatter or burst. This is humanist cinema to the core. 

For children and their parents alike, memories of the past are haunted by moments when we didn’t know what would come next in life; haunted by the love that has forgotten us, the innocence that has escaped us, or the hopefulness that has vanished on us. But the past also lives on in memories of the moments that teach us how to feel and acknowledge love, tranquility and hope. This notion of our memories being haunted by what we do not yet know is experienced through a generational chain — anyone who becomes a parent may experience both perspectives of it. 

Our past is complex. It is not one thing or another. Our past isn’t only made up of what we remember. Childhood may have felt simple in the moment, but we are not always aware of the pain that exists for others simultaneously with our joy, in the same moments that we remember, because as children we were often not cognizant of those things that can be around us — but parents are. No matter how hard parents try to hide it from their children, sometimes they themselves may not be able to escape their thoughts of discontent.  

In Aftersun, there is an uneasiness that looms throughout. In so many small instances, it feels like tragedy is just a second away for Calum (played by Paul Mescal). A specific dramatic tragedy never truly materializes, yet we become more and more aware as the film progresses, of the discontent he feels towards his own life and how things have turned out for him (aside from having his daughter, who he undoubtably has an incredible amount of love for). He’s unhappy. Calum’s unhappiness is characterized by that feeling of when who you are and who you want to be, are not the same person. At one point in the film, his daughter Sophie (played by Frankie Corio) asks him what he believed his life would be like now, when he was eleven years old. He doesn’t respond to her question. Later in the film, he expresses his feelings of not belonging, and emphasizes to Sophie the importance of the time she has left to figure things out — where she’ll end up, who she’ll be, etc. This loss of time is something that Calum feels he knows all too well, believing that he became a father too young, before he had time to figure out who he wants to be, and align that with who he projects out into the world. Nevertheless, these feelings do not take away any of the unconditional love he has for Sophie; though he has to hide these feelings of discontent from her. 

The dichotomous representation of Calum’s character and Sophie’s is one which highlights the feeling of growing up, becoming an adult, and not feeling like you belong anywhere (Calum), and a childhood observation that is rooted in curiosity; that we all share the same sky, we share the same home, therefore we all belong where we are (Sophie). 

In one of the last scenes of the film, the camera pauses on a developing Polaroid photograph that represents Calum and Sophie’s holiday vacation which we just saw unfold. The photo gradually develops, de-hazing as it is exposed to light, but more importantly, it is exposed to time. This image of a memory developing, of it forming; is metaphorically the inverse of a memory being remembered. As we grow older, memories of our childhood begin to slowly fade; or at the very least as is the case for Sophie, how and what we remember of those events change as we reflect and understand things more fully. 

Beyond my belief, this is Charlotte Wells’ feature debut, and it is honestly one of the best I’ve seen. Aftersun is so well written, and she exhibits a masterful ability to direct both shots and actors. Wells is undoubtably now on the list of young filmmakers I’m most excited to follow what they do next. 

Aftersun is a masterpiece.


Rating: 5 out of 5.

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