REVIEW: ‘Aftersun’ is Beautifully Emotional

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aftersun - But Why Tho

Memories are fragile things. They’re subjective moments from our lives that change as our emotional maturity grows and we learn the context for the life we lived. We can find solace in them and sometimes they can shatter us. A24’s Aftersun beautifully encapsulates the power, fragility, and importance of memories, and does so with a soft hand.

Directed and written by Charlotte Wells and produced by Barry Jenkins, Aftersun is a moment in time and every emotion attached to it as it reaches from childhood to adulthood. The film stars Paul Mescal, Frankie Corio, and Celia Rowlson-Hall and primarily takes place at a fading vacation resort. There, we see inside a father-daughter relationship as 11-year-old Sophie (Frankie Corio) treasures rare times together with her loving and idealistic father, Calum (Paul Mescal). As adolescence creeps into view, beyond her eye Calum struggles under the weight of life outside of fatherhood. Twenty years later, Sophie’s tender recollections of their last holiday become a powerful and heartrending portrait of their relationship, as she tries to reconcile the father she knew with the man she couldn’t know.

Emotional, beautiful, and heartbreaking, Aftersun is perfection. In the moments of love and laughter, Wells is able to capture the sadness creeping in and the strength it takes for Calum to spare Sophie the weight of knowing his melancholy. I wouldn’t say that Aftersun is a rough watch, but it is one that moves you to think about the people in your life, the people you love, and to think about the small moments of intimacy and the memories we hold close and what they hold when you look a little deeper.

Our leads, Paul Mescal and Frankie Corio are stunning as a father and daughter, both together and separately. Both actors pull forward so much emotion in even the smallest of moments, making you feel like you’ve looked directly at the foundations of who they are as people. Smartly, Wells uses the camera to focus on small things in a scene. A polaroid rendering on a table as Calum and Sophie laugh, reflections in an old TV while they play with a camcorder, and more. Wells knows when to let elements of the memory remain almost blank, building the tenderness of moments and allowing them to only happen between Calum and Sophie and not the audience.

In the film’s final moments, Wells shows adult Sophie (Celia Rowlson-Hall) at a club, the lights strobing and revealing a man dancing, and she sees her father. Calum dances as the lights reveal parts of him. Adult Sophie reaches out to him, joins, and while it’s never said, there is an emptiness she’s trying to fill, a missing piece that only her dad had. Artfully, Wells manages to capture a woman looking to her past for solace and connection while also managing to do justice to the pain and instability of a young father desperately trying to create one last memory for his daughter.

As Calum, Mescal is breathtaking. He’s loving and caring, and then in other moments, he’s breaking down. There is a fragility we see in Aftersun that doesn’t diminish the love held between people. It doesn’t undercut the love shared, the bond between parent and child, but it does showcase that sometimes there are battles we can’t win. There is no doubt or question of Calum’s love for Sophie, even the moments of adult Sophie reaching into her past for a father that has assumingly passed at his own hand doesn’t question that. There is just an empty space, a void. Something lost in it all, and the power of the joy felt on that vacation makes it deeper.

I don’t know how to effectively convey the way Aftersun lowered me into sadness. Slowly, methodically, but most important empathetically. What do we do with our memories after we lose a person in them? For some, you live in them. For others, you try to find the moments when they could have revealed something to you. And for Sophie, it feels like both.

Aftersun is playing now in theaters.


Aftersun
  • 10/10
    Rating - 10/10
10/10

TL;DR

I don’t know how to effectively convey the way Aftersun lowered me into sadness. Slowly, methodically, but most important empathetically. What do we do with our memories after we lose a person in them? For some, you live in them. For others, you try to find the moments when they could have revealed something to you. And for Sophie, it feels like both.

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