Aftersun is Charlotte Wells’ 2022 directorial debut starring Frankie Corio and Paul Mescal, leading to Mescal’s Oscar nomination for best actor. Produced by A24, Aftersun is a soberingly dramatic work of visual poetry. Charlotte Wells showcases clear direction and intention within the subtlety of the story. To fully understand the power and beauty of this film, I was compelled to watch it twice despite its heart-shattering poignancy. Aftersun will make you fall in love with cinema, and holds inspiration in filmmaking, forming what I consider to be one of the greatest films of the 21st century.
Set in the early 1990s, the story follows Callum (Paul Mescal) and Sophie (Frankie Corio) as a father-daughter duo on vacation at a beach resort in Turkey. Sophie spends her days at the resort filming memories on her camcorder, presenting parts of the story through POV footage. Aftersun sets us up for a coming-of-age story about Sophie, but instead a deep narrative about Callum and his battle with depression is unveiled. At the film’s start, we meet Sophie and Callum, who appear content with a solid and loving relationship. As the film progresses, Callum’s depression becomes overwhelming, and we see the effects of that. We see Sophie begin to understand, even at a young age, that her father is struggling. Although the film is subdued and very little happens throughout the story, the slow-burn dramatic style is captivating and filled with so much depth and emotion that it outclasses most modern films.
The presentation of perspective throughout Aftersun is the most critical component of the film. On the surface, we see a linear story about a father and daughter, but if we look deeper, we find a more significant interpretation of how the characters are viewed. The film follows a structure of three perspectives: Sophie’s memory, Sophie’s imagination, and the recorded video via the camcorder. The film follows these three perspectives, telling an emotionally captivating story through various formats and imagery. Based on how this narrative is revealed, the character’s engagements depend on the perspective. Scenes shown through the camcorder are authentic, preserved events that replay to fill the gaps of memories lost to time and history. Moments in which Callum and Sophie are together are retold according to Sophie’s imperfect memory, and scenes featuring Callum alone are purely fabricated from Sophie’s imagination, based on what she assumes may have happened when she was not with him. With this untraditional storytelling style, we can better understand Sophie’s perception of her vacation and relationship with her father.
At the film’s climactic finale, Sophie and Callum share one last dance, as clearly defined by Queen’s “Under Pressure,” which is dramatically remixed for this scene. The song pairs with imagery of Sophie holding onto Callum so painfully tight, pulling on the heartstrings of every viewer. As the song slowly repeats, “This is our last dance…” we realize that this is likely the last time Sophie will ever see her father. The scene cuts between the emotionally slowed dancing and a visual interpretation of loss. The scene flashes in and out just enough to glimpse what it alludes to. With each flash, we see adult Sophie silently screaming and she tries to hold onto Callum, who is falling into the darkness, both literally and metaphorically. The slow pace of young Sophie dancing in soft, warm light contrasts the dark and cold-colored harshness of the representation of the mental void. Sophie’s distraught emotion warns us that she too is falling close to the void. After her vacation with Callum, she began to develop anxiety and depression due to the effect Callum had on her.