Paul Mescal and poolside conversationsPhoto by Emilio Garcia on Unsplash

Parents become strangely godlike creatures in their children’s minds. All-knowing, all-powerful, and all-capable. In the process of growing up, this façade must crumble...

Charlotte Wells’ film is both a warm and chilling meditation on 11-year-old Sophie’s relationship with her single father, portrayed by Paul Mescal. We spend the movie’s two-hour runtime on holiday with the pair in a budget resort in Turkey. It’s inherently nostalgic, tugging on the heartstrings of many, like myself, who were dragged on these package holidays as kids. As well as providing the perfect space away from the banal preoccupations of everyday life to spend time exploring interpersonal relationships, the summer holiday serves us a shattered childhood fantasy. It is the Garden of Eden we are forced to leave as we grow up.

Her memories are nothing but confusing fragments of disco lights

It is from this perspective that we view the film: adult Sophie looking back on her relationship with her father. She sees now what she could not as a child - her father’s depression. Mescal’s subtle portrayal of the weight and isolation of mental illness has already been seen in his Normal People performance, to which this film offers a worthy companion. Caught in Sophie’s naïve perspective, we never truly find out what’s going on behind her father’s pained eyes. Financial struggles are alluded to. Occasionally, homosexuality is gestured at. Nothing is settled, including Sophie’s own relation to her memories.

Splintered throughout the film are scenes of Sophie as an adult caught in the strobe lights of a rave. This is the palace of her memories. They are nothing but confusing fragments of disco lights, far from the sun-drenched days with her dad in Turkey. This surreal flashback device is exemplified when Sophie’s dad sees her off at the airport, and the airport becomes a nightclub - becomes something that is remembered, re-experienced and reconstructed.

Aftersun TrailerMubi

From start to finish, Wells’ feature film debut eludes tidy interpretation. The audience isn’t told how to react. Its point is hard to pin down. When the credits rolled in the cinema, I heard someone behind me whisper under their breath, “what the fuck?” The ambiguous narrative seems to mirror Sophie’s feelings towards her father. Just as we find ourselves searching for meaning in the poolside conversations, Sophie is searching for the key to understanding him.

Wells wants us to feel a bit bored during these scenes

It’s never confirmed that Sophie’s dad dies, but references to death loom over the whole film. At many times, we feel certain that this is it - but the climax never comes and, eventually, we stop waiting for it. We simply let the long days, the long takes, and the long shots of the natural landscape wash over us. Scenes are never cut short or given a patronisingly specific focus. Music is used sparingly.

Wells takes the time to include a shot of a polaroid picture developing in the light on a dinner table. Another of the father and daughter doing Tai Chi on a mountain viewpoint. I think that Wells wants us to feel a bit bored during these scenes - for our minds to drift off a little. We’re not constantly over-analysing everything but are caught in a game with no rules. Sometimes it’s enough to just think about what these visuals might mean to us. Just like Sophie, we are caught in a struggle between nostalgia and reality, between sun and aftersun. And maybe it’s okay to leave the nostalgia goggles on sometimes.


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Aftersun seems to be about how we remember the relationships that form us. It’s about honeymoon periods, but between child and parent rather than newlyweds. Though you don’t have to be a child to be blind to how a person is struggling beneath the surface. Sometimes memory and remembering have a bigger impact on us than reality does.

Perhaps when we revisit our memories of a lost loved one - just as Sophie replays footage from her Sony Handycam - we feel like we know them better now than we did at the time. Wells’ film is an unsettling yet wonderful reflection on human relationships.