‘Aftersun’ Is A Quietly Devastating Masterpiece.

To be completely honest, I truly wasn’t going to write a piece for Charlotte Wells’ ‘Aftersun‘ but I was left with so much to feel after the movie ended that it quite honestly affected the next two days. It’s all I can think about and God forbid anyone plays ‘Under Pressure’ because I will break down. It is a movie that broke me in ways I didn’t even know were possible, to continue dreading something that it then gets shown in the most heartbreaking way possible. It has made me rethink so much stuff in my own life and how I view my parents and how you start seeing them as people instead of just your parents. How the role of a parent changes you and the amount of responsibility that it entails. How mental health affects parents and how you view it differently as a child and as an adult. This is a movie that is gonna stay with me forever, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a more human movie than this and it has affected me so deeply that the only way I can process the feelings it left me with is to write them out.

major spoilers for ‘Aftersun‘ are featured in this review.

Once the movie starts, it introduces Calum and Sophie and starts getting us used to their dynamic as father and daughter. There is an all too familiar feeling brewing in the first half and that is the clashing perspectives of the two leads. We view this holiday trip through the eyes of both of them and it balances them perfectly. We get that youthful innocence and sense of adventure and carefree nature but we also get the deeply melancholic mindset of Calum and the adult side of things. Parenthood is something that I have thought about a lot in my life but never did I fully grasp the insanity of it until I watched ‘Aftersun‘. To carry the responsibility of an entire human being and prepare them for this awful world and yet still allow them to wander and be innocent and carefree. That is an immense responsibility to take on and considering what Calum is going through, it makes for some truly authentic and human portrayals of parenthood and mental health. It just makes me think of the night where Sophie signs up her and her father to sing but Calum isn’t up for it so he lets her sing the song by herself as he watches, Paul Mescal’s face exuding that numbness, that pit in his stomach that he cannot bring himself to explain away but to Sophie this is just how her father is. The fact that he leaves her outside and goes to his room, not necessarily trusting her but having to physically be on his own no matter what it takes and knowing it’s horrible but going through with it anyways. The exploration of mental health through the eyes of Calum and Sophie is truly incredible, it’s perfect. The movie never truly reveals why Calum is depressed, it only expresses it. For the most part, Calum is with Sophie so we roughly know as much as she does as to why he is this way. The one time we are truly let into Calum’s mind is when they separate on the penultimate day and he goes to his room sobbing and crying intensely. This is the one scene where we truly get what Calum is going through, where he isn’t covering his emotions. In fact, the way ‘Aftersun‘ reveals information is crucial as to why it is so effective.

The movie is very minimal in all sorts of ways, from the score to the setting to the story, it is all about a moment in time with these two characters. To fully land the emotional effect that it does, it couldn’t have followed the typical storytelling rules. When exploring Calum’s character, we don’t get to see his life outside of what he tells Sophie, we don’t really know much about him but we can feel his emotions deeply. Wells does a tremendous job of building this unspoken dread within Calum. It is something that grows as the film progresses and we get a better hint at what is truly going on. We keep seeing glimpses of a rave setting which to me symbolized the inner turmoil Calum was facing and even though that’s not truly what the rave symbolizes, it still makes sense at the end as he gives into that turmoil at the end of the movie. Of course, the true meaning for the rave, once explained is truly devastating. All throughout the movie I kept waiting for something horrible to happen, there was a sense of predictability that I expected the movie to follow in attempt to prepare myself for whatever it was going to throw, only to get to the actual ending and feel shattered from the inside out. Having an adult Sophie in the present rewatch these tapes as she is a similar age to Calum during the trip, she is recontextualizing it and seeing a new person entirely in the shape of her father. From what I’ve read, the rave symbolizes how she remembers Calum, in glimpses, dancing which reference the ‘Under Pressure’ sequence where for a moment, Calum just lets go and ignored his problems in an attempt to end the holiday on a memorable note for Sophie. The use of that song and the lyric ‘This is our last dance’, it is criminally heartbreaking, Charlotte Wells, what the hell? Adult Sophie still doesn’t know what he was going through and she may never know but through her memories, her glimpses and these recordings, she can see her father as a person, as a human being who was struggling with depression. The pain and beauty that comes with recontextualizing your past especially your childhood and how as an adult, you see your parents as someone other than your mother or father, as people who have dreams, who struggle, who have their own lives and seeing how much they did for you and gaining a new level of love for them. God it is beautiful and in the case of ‘Aftersun‘, relentlessly heartbreaking. Despite not grasping all the layers and nuances the movie had presented when I watched it for the first time, I fully understood the ending and it absolutely shattered me. I watched it at a friend’s house and we just let this massive sigh out and got up and started walking around the couch, as one does after watching ‘Aftersun‘. The overwhelming emotion it left me with lingered for the next two days and I’m only truly getting it out of my system by writing this review. That being said, I love that a film had this much power over me because it meant that it spoke to me and left me anew.

It is actually insane that I haven’t even mentioned Paul Mescal’s incredible performance yet as for a moment I genuinely forgot that Calum wasn’t a real person. It is the type of performance that touches the soul because at the end of the day what Mescal is portraying through Calum is a familiar loneliness and darkness that is instantly recognizable. He manages to convey so many different emotions and say so much without physically saying anything. It’s the way his eyes react that tells us exactly what we need to know. How his entire demeanor can change when asked a question about his childhood, you can even feel it in his voice when he is trying to sound normal but he just wants to start crying at any given moment. It is such a tender performance, so human and fragile, I truly wanted to just leap through the screen and hug him. Usually actors access this type of raw emotion for a couple scenes, the ones that the Oscars choose to highlight if they’re lucky enough to be nominated. In Paul Mescal’s case however, he accessed that genuine humanity in every second he was on-screen, it truly is a marvelous performance, easily my favourite of the year. It also goes without saying that Frankie Corio is fantastic as Sophie. She meets Mescal in that place of genuinity and provides a contrasting familiarity, our childhood selves. She is utterly adorable, charismatic and incredibly talented. The dynamic between these two transcends acting, you can truly see that they genuinely get along and have that respect for each other as actors and as people. Beyond the acting, it is also worth mentioning just how clever the cinematograpy is with it’s use of reflections which I read that they help add onto that feeling of remembering a memory and how it’s never as clear as you’d like it. It’s just insane how good this movie is. Charlotte Wells, I cannot wait to see what the rest of your career looks like.

It is safe to say that ‘Aftersun‘ means a lot to me and it’s definitely something I will hold onto for as long as I can. I truly didn’t think I would be writing a review for it but it was just that emotionally overwhelming that I had to write it down and process my own feelings towards it despite knowing how much I love it. ‘Aftersun‘ to me, is what cinema is all about, to portray a story in this specific format that couldn’t be done as effectively in any other medium and transcend the screen to truly affect the viewer and enrich their life with this advice and message. Now, if you’ll excuse me I’m gonna go listen to the score and hug my mother as tightly as humanly possible. If you’re lucky enough to have a parent that you love and loves you, please make sure to remind them of it.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Aftersun‘ is now streaming on MUBI as well as available to purchase on Blu-Ray and DVD.


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