Kids rarely get the whole picture of what goes through their parent or guardians mind on any given day. Any number of thoughts can change a mood, or any repressed feelings can surface that can have a serious affect on a psyche. For what a child may see is, but a fraction of feelings and emotion portrayed but when the lights go out and the weight of the world is too much pressure to take, the parent or guardian can finally step aside to let out the frustration they may feel. The stress has to be released somehow through a vice or any other number of outlets that may not be understood at a certain age for the kids protection.
At its core, Aftersun, the directorial debut by Charlotte Wells who also wrote the screenplay is about a deeply complex and puzzling relationship between father and daughter. Despite the point of view presented by Wells and her experiences, the film isn’t exclusive to that pairing. Any number of relationships between a parent and their child can fit into the mold that Wells draws inspiration from. During the film, I couldn’t help but reflect on my childhood and how my mom handled the burden of raising me as a single parent. Day in and day out, year after year, the stress of providing a stable home life is never seen unless it’s shown. As we get older, the rose-colored glasses are removed, and a more complete picture comes into frame.
It’s only when we get to a certain age that we can understand the mental and physical toll parenthood can take on a person. For Wells’ film, the narrative follows father Callum (Paul Mescal) and his 11-year-old daughter Sophie (Frankie Corio) on a holiday at a resort in Turkey days before Paul’s 31st birthday. Callum and Sophie’s mother are no longer together but Callum still makes an effort to be amicable while clearly dealing with mental problems and bouts with depression. The hotel room is full of self help guides and books on Tai chi used as a coping mechanism.
This is where Wells’ script comes into focus, though Sophie may not fully understand what her father is going through, she picks up the pieces that Wells sprinkles in. Kids should be given more credit then they deserve – they’re not as naïve as we hope they are. Moments are heightened by tough statements and observations by Sophie that Callum does his best to ignore but the issue persists and the gash cuts deeper.
Told mostly through Sophie’s perspective through the lens of a video camera, Aftersun deals with the façade adults put up to hide their discomfort and difficulties of life. In the most candid of moments shot through the video camera, Wells perfectly captures isolation and doubles down on the emptiness when Callum and Sophie are separated. Callum is clearly uncomfortable throughout the entire holiday, a mixture of money problems and difficulties with holding down a job, his anger and frustration break through, showing his real self to Sophie when he is doing his best to protect her from the truth. The beauty of Aftersun is brought on by Sophie’s response, being intelligent enough to recognize her fathers pain and comforting him when she can. Wells establishes their relationship early on while building on the foundation as the simplistic narrative unfolds.
Opposite the struggles faced by Callum, Sophie is going through a change – on the cusp of puberty the want to grow up and do everything the older kids are doing grows stronger in Sophie by the day. Throughout Wells’ film, Sophie never oversteps nor do the older kids use her innocence to their advantage giving the script a sweetness to balance out the depression brought on by Callum. The two make a great father daughter duo and the final product is heightened by Paul Mescal and Frankie Corio’s performances.
As Callum, Paul Mescal encapsulates the loneliness a parent can feel with subtle looks, body language and an absolute commitment to disassociation from the real world all while putting on a brave face for Sophie. Mescal elevates his characters sadness with a fake smile, soft spoken anger and a quiet fury raging beneath the surface. Opposite Mescal is newcomer Frankie Corio who in her first ever acting role has outstanding instincts on screen. Corio brings a naturalistic nuance to Sophie and is truly the standout among two wonderful performances. Both Mescal and Corio are harmonious with their chemistry on screen playing off each other’s timing with effortless precision.
Aftersun hits hardest when least expected. Dealing with memory and how we perceive life surrounds this film, makes it easy to relate to and harnesses the joy and sadness of life and the relationships we hold close. Wells will pull us into her world, her experiences and her headspace as her characters capture the feelings of fleeting moments and memories of one another. There’s an inherent sadness that spills off the screen – who we idolize may not deserve that pedestal and the happiest people on the outside are fighting demons we cannot conceive of.
Any singular memory my not be as happy as once thought of in the moment. Looking back and reflecting on the past and seeing the glass full is how we can understand those closest to us in a more emotionally driven way. Life has way of reminding us that the happiest times may not be what they seem, and Wells perfectly translates those moments of reflection when you’re in the parents shoes and the headspace can be reevaluated. Aftersun is a remarkable achievement of the human condition, tugging at the heartstrings which will find way to stick with us well beyond Wells’ semi-autobiographical story ends.
Screenplay By: Charlotte Wells
Directed By: Charlotte Wells
Music By: Oliver Coates
Cinematography: Gregory Oke
Starring: Paul Mescal, Frankie Corio, Celia Rowlson-Hall
Release Date: October 21, 2022
Running Time: 1 Hour 36 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%