A forlorn ode to a memory that was once one with a glistening sunbeam of love, Aftersun (2022) falls apart while reminiscing the painful stab of loss and what came before it. What hits you with a behemoth force of crumbling emotions is the soundless upsurge of a mortifying tragedy. After Normal People, Paul Mescal traumatizes his audience with a warm yet aching longing for someone who remains in an opaque bubble of distance while being very close. We feel all of it through Frankie Corio’s hypnotic ability to make you forget that what you’re witnessing is actually fictional.

The film takes its sweet time–and you’re often puzzled by its unswerving surface of mundanity. But by the time Charlotte Well’s shockingly affecting directorial debut lets out its muffled, paralytic scream, it is too late to look away from the unanticipated wound. With a distressingly untold cruciality leaving behind a morbid end of a father-daughter relationship, denial is just as small of an option as is the comfort of imagining a lesser agony. You are then left hysterically piecing together all that hinted at the calamity you would rather not look at but can’t look away from either.

Aftersun (2022): Plot Summary and Movie Synopsis

Through the hazy lens of a camera, little Sophie finds herself playfully interviewing her father, Calum, on the smallscale Turkey trip they are taking for her 11th birthday. Calum doesn’t necessarily have a reassuring answer to any of Sophie’s questions. All he wants from the bottom of his overwhelmed heart is to connect with Sophie at the little all-inclusive resort and to give her a birthday to remember. With not many greens in his pocket, Calum doesn’t have a choice other than accepting the kind of service that they were not promised. But the uncomfortable bed situation doesn’t stand in the way of Sophie trying to reach out to a father she clearly doesn’t get to spend a lot of time with.

As is placidly expected from a girl of her age, Sophie can’t quite wrap her head around why her parents are not together. She once gleefully mistook Calum’s phone being engaged as her parents being engaged. In the binary of her childish understanding, two people that love each other and have a child together are supposed to be together. Her unlikely emotional capacity of keeping a spontaneously open mind, however, doesn’t allow bitterness to make her heart it’s home. She misses her father. Even though they are pretty regularly in wired touch, myriad reasons impede Calum from truly knowing her adolescent depths. Sophie’s longing for her father’s company has insisted that the little girl takes comfort from something as pragmatically hopeless as sharing the same sun no matter how far she is from Calum.

Father of an 11-year-old in his early 30s, Calum hasn’t quite had the time to grasp the turn his life took without informing him. The universal troubles of a young parent, devastatingly for Calum, are only magnified endlessly by the demons he secretly battles in his tormented mind. He perhaps doesn’t quite understand his own emotional predicaments, and therefore he can’t really let the sweet Sophie get too close. Learning meditation from a book and seeking help from the distractive moves of Tai Chi is how he keeps the faltering engine of his mind running.

Related to Aftersun (2022): Aftersun (2022) Review – A heartwarming portrait of a parent-child bond, varnished with tenderness and charm

Sophie spends the rosy days of her vacation in the delightful embarrassment of her swimming skills, sloppily scuba diving, skipping and eating irresponsible meals with her father, and befriending Michael. The wide-eyed little girl is straightfaced in her curious fascination with the group of teens that play pool, drink shots and engage in appropriate hedonism. Through the blinding flashes of a hallucinatory rave, we see Sophie, now of age, reaching out to her ever-fleeting father as she walks through the recordings of the happiest trip they ever took.

Aftersun (2022): Themes Explained

Decaying mental health

The invariably pertinent question of mental health and its enduring explorations have taken chosen parts out of the strict boundaries of pros and have turned those into matters of a generalized discussion. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. With people who now see the signs and seek help before the progression of it gets out of hand, the conversations around mental illnesses have become infinitely more accessible and less enigmatic. In the case of Calum, the protruding signs of his troubled emotional state were scattered throughout the narrative. While some hints were trickier to pick up on and needed a revisitation to acknowledge their impact truly, some were there clear as day–helplessly waiting to be recognized and empathized with.

Aftersun (2022) Movie Explained - Ending & Themes Analysed

Calum was drowning, and from the looks of it, he perhaps didn’t even know just how deep. Through the cracks of his timidness, the effervescent poison of hopelessness and misery leaked out for all to see. There were distinct signs of depression in the man who most likely tried his hardest to believe otherwise. Although the root of his troubled state isn’t exhaustively explored, certain instances of him pouring his heart out did point to his childhood. When asked what he did on his 11th birthday, Calum’s remembrance only brought on the heartbreaking image of an angry mother who was annoyed at the mention of his special day and the half-hearted gift the little boy had to pick from himself. The dysfunctional home of unloving parents cruelly robbed Calum of the feeling of belonging. Running for his life and for a place to call home also disappointed him to no end. He had no career to speak of, no steady romance to hold on to, and certainly no place which had a soothing embrace for his emotional yearning.

Pouring out through all the gaps it could find, Calum’s misery hardly left much to the imagination. In solitude, Calum wore the real face of a man who was transparently on the verge of a breakdown. He broke down in tears more often than he let on. No matter how desperately a person may try to hide his inner plight, mental illness finds a way to break out in troubling remarks. Calum’s depression was severe enough to blur out the possibility of any future whatsoever, no matter how terrible. A man who couldn’t even picture his mere existence in the times to come couldn’t really be expected to have his life together.

Significance of a happy memory

Did your dad ever take you to the beach? Sophie will forever have a bittersweet answer to that question, despite the dark turn her life took. Childhoods are essentially molded as they are made from effective memories–both good and bad. Little things, small grievances, and even life-altering incidents lie buried under the lingering feelings left behind by emotionally immense memories. The importance of good memories in formative years is something that can not be replaced. While the lack of it is often felt throughout a reasonably decent adulthood, the presence of it makes up for a lot of unfixable deficiencies. Calum fought tooth and nail with his erratic emotional condition to give Sophie a memory to cherish for as long as she lives. Basking in the sun at the dingy resort, Calum and Sophie marked a remarkable point in life where they were both happy in each other’s loving company. He might not have been stable enough to present Sophie with a perfect childhood. He scarcely had enough money to even offer her little tokens of happiness. What he did have was his astonishing drive to do everything his emotional and financial circumstances allowed him to do, to make her smile. The memories captured by the little Handycam will ceaselessly be a beacon of warmth for Sophie to go back to, whenever she needs reassurance that her dad loves her.

Problematic Parenthood

If there’s one thing that’s practically inescapable in life, it is the effect of one’s experiences with their parents. We can strive hard, unlearn, and maybe even heal to some extent. But the deathless scars left behind by how it was in our most formative years are something that will always probe through all our actions and reactions throughout our life. We don’t really get a look at Sophie’s relationship with her mother. From what we see of her time with her father, our first instinct is to recognize the love and understanding they shared for one another. But is it really a child’s job to be understanding of things her young mind can barely make sense of? Even though she was left in the dark for her own well-being, someone as strikingly emotionally intuitive as Sophie could see that her father was troubled. Not being able to grasp what was troubling him only made her confused about Calum’s intentions. Calum didn’t want to burden her with his unhappiness. But unhappiness is contagious. Barring the high points of his best efforts, Calum’s wayward unpredictability weighed heavy on puzzled Sophie. No matter the defenses that can be placed in favor of Calum, no child deserves to go through the emotional ups and downs of their parents. If Calum had sought help, there would have been no movie. But if Calum had sought help, Sophie would have grown up happy. Instead, Sophie grew up a traumatized adult and a new mom on an essential mission of not making the mistakes of her parents.

Aftersun (2022): Movie Ending, Explained

Was it Sophie and Calum’s last dance?

Trying to wash off the unpleasantness of the last few days, Calum means for the last day of their trip to only be of wholesomeness and fun. Sitting at the dinner table, sharing a sundae, Sophie can’t be bothered to remember all the muted problems that surfaced during the trip. She is just happy to be with her dad. Sophie wishes they didn’t have to leave, but she understands that they can’t possibly live in hotels. A polaroid of them taken by a stranger manifests the happiness of the moment as Sophie sits and tries to take in the warmth. On their way back to the room, Calum is drawn to the dance floor taken by Bowie’s Under Pressure. He drags the unwilling Sophie into the mesmerized guest crowd because he simply has to dance. Conscious of her moves, Sophie stands and marvels at the happiest state of her father she has ever seen. She hugs him tight–with love and the urge to never let go, and they blend into the music with the lyrics going, “this is our last dance.”

The entire narrative is of adult Sophie, now in a loving relationship, revisiting all that was recorded of what most likely was her last memory of her father. In the opening sequence, with Calum’s dorky dance in the hotel room, we saw a reflection of adult Sophie looking at the camcorder. Nauseating flashes of a rave where Sophie was trying to get a hold of her perpetually dancing father as he was going further and further into the impenetrable crowd kept coming back in between Sophie and Calum’s vacation shots. While little Sophie and Calum were in each other’s arms and dancing in the safe refuge of love, adult Sophie’s haunting hallucinations of her falling father in a puzzling rave chimed its way in–suggesting that it was, to Sophie’s horror, their last dance. The last time we saw Calum was when he dropped Sophie off at the airport, recording her shenanigans with the same camcorder before walking out the door and into that rave. In the fevered state of adult Sophie’s mind that is traumatized by the loss of her father, the last time she saw her father merged with the triggering memory of his passing. Although the film doesn’t provide the consoling comfort of a definitive answer, it is heavily suggested that Calum died shortly after their last happy trip.

The suggestive whispers of Calum’s suicidal tendencies were subtly placed throughout the entire duration of the narrative unfolding. His fate didn’t need to be fished out of the cryptic expressions of his perishing mental health. While talking with the scuba instructor, Calum casually mentioned that he was surprised that he even made it to 30 and that he didn’t really see himself reaching his 40s. After his altercation with Sophie regarding his unwillingness to sing on stage, we saw Calum walk right into the ocean. It would be fair to assume that he did try to end his life on that very night and decided to come back for the sake of Sophie. While it’s reasonable speculation that Calum ended his own life, it can also be argued that he might have ODed. His mention of his history with drugs and adult Sophie’s vision of losing her father in the middle of a rave might be suggestive of drugs being involved in Calum’s death. But all these speculations aside, one dreadful thing is for certain–Calum lost his excruciating battle, and it is something that will haunt Sophie forever. The disturbing realization that Sophie will never again have a birthday without falling apart comes loaded up with another conclusion just as grim. In the lowest points of her days, asleep or awake, Sophie will never stop feeling that she failed to save her father. Granted, it’s a feeling that isn’t quite rational–the darkest corners of the human mind seldom follow reason.

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Aftersun (2022) Trailer

Aftersun (2022) Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, Wikipedia
Aftersun (2022) Cast: Paul Mescal, Frankie Corio, Celia Rowlson-Hall
Where to watch Aftersun

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