“Where did you think you would be when you were 11?” When we are young, our future exists as possibilities. We live in the endless potential of a malleable reality and we are under the impression we can create whatever life we seek out. As we grow, we become aware of the limitations of our existence. This typically isn’t a sudden rush of awareness, but a slow erosion over time. This concept is both painfully and beautifully brought to the screen in the 2022 film Aftersun.
Aftersun is the feature directorial debut for Scottish director, Charlotte Wells. Having previously created three short films while attending NYU, Aftersun marks a strong start to Wells feature catalog. With what she describes as “emotionally auto-biographical”, Aftersun follows a woman looking back on a vacation she had with her young father 20 years prior. Through flashbacks and grainy home videos, intercut with abstract-dreamlike sequences, this film observes a father and daughter who are unknowingly at the end of their time together.
Aftersun weaves together two narratives set apart by age and circumstance seamlessly. We have 11 year old Sophie (Frankie Corio), who is burgeoning into adolescence. She is young and idyllic, while also existing at the steady decline of her tender innocence. As she observes the other teenagers at the resort, we see her anxiously await what her future holds. This is contrasted with her father, Callum (Paul Mescal), who is coping with severe depression on the eve of his 31st birthday. While Wells skillfully leaves much of the exposition up to the audience’s interpretation, we are led to believe Callum is separated from Sophie’s mother and is struggling financially. He is deeply unsatisfied by his life but tries to find meaning and drive. While Sophie and Callum’s outlooks could not be further from each other, they are brought together by the shared love they have for one another. While imperfect, like all relationships, the performances from Mescal and Corio solidify and invest the audience in this bond.
When we lose someone, they are no longer actualized beings that exist alongside us. They become fractured visions of the time we spent with them. While it is not said outright in the film, it is heavily implied Callum succumbs to the pressures he was experiencing and takes his own life, making that vacation at the Turkish resort the last time they see each other. At 31 years old, Sophie is left searching for some missing piece of who her dad was and why she wasn’t able to save him. She is grown now, the same age as her father on their vacation, with a partner and a child of her own. As a child, she was unable to fully see the cracks in her father’s disposition, but after having her own slew of lived experiences, she is able to come to a realization that we all come to at some point in our lives. Our parents are not mythical beings, unscathed by the harsh realities of living, but people. People that we will someday become.
When discussing the film, Wells stated, "Of the many things the film is about, one was this idea of shared joy and private melancholy, or individual experiences not being mutually exclusive with a different type of shared experience."(mubi, 2023). This is where Aftersun excels. Wells aptly conjures the many facets of relationships both with ourselves and with those we love. Aftersun illustrates the complicated and beautiful way we grow and exist with one another, even after loss.
Aftersun has received a nomination for Best Actor in a Lead Role for Paul Mescal’s performance. In a climate of bloated superhero blockbusters and remakes, this form of praise and recognition for a low-budget directorial debut is both welcomed and necessary. Aftersun is available to stream and view in select theaters.
Wyeth Anderson is a withitgirl writer and contributor. She was raised in the Bay Area and has a degree in Film and Sociology from the University of Oregon. Wyeth has a passion for media, antiquing, and her two cats, Niv and Tisa. Follow Wyeth on Instagram.
Aftersun Offical Website
Aftersun Tickets and ways to watch
Charlotte Wells Website
Franke Corio Instagram
Writing Inside Out: Charlotte Wells on Aftersun by Robert Daniels (2022)
The Distance in Your Eyes: Charlotte Wells Discusses "Aftersun" by Caitlin Quinlan (2023)
Paul Mescal on His Role in Aftersun Video, Entertainment Weekly Interview, (Nov 2022)
Charlotte Wells & Paul Mescal, Video on Brief Take, Mental Health + Scences (Nov 2022)