Aftersun is such a bittersweet contemplation of age and time that it was a deeply moving experience.
Published on November 10, 2022
Rating 4.5 /5
Aftersun is a film all about time. It takes a heartbreaking look at a crystalized moment in both childhood and parenthood. It’s that rare time when you can sense the change coming when children start growing up and parents struggle with letting go. It’s a cathartic moment of time that is so tender that this film has the guts to slow down and let it wash over you.
The film considers the relationship between Sophie and her father Calum. Seen partially through recorded video, we witness the 11-year-old Sophie celebrating her father’s birthday while they vacation together at a resort. The two get along fairly well but there’s clearly a lot that Calum tries to hide from his daughter. When he’s around her, he’s a bit protective and cautious about her hanging out with boys and doing stuff on her own. When he’s not, however, there’s a bitter sadness that he struggles to grapple with, realizing that a part of his life may be over forever.
There’s a tenderness that permeates every scene of Aftersun with heartfelt sincerity. It’s the little moments of Sophie and Calum just hanging out on the beach or sitting on the train that sticks out as relatable moments. Their conversations casually lead to talk of boys, relationships and growing up. The tougher topics are left temporarily in silence. The film opens with the playful Sophie filming her father and asking him what his 11th birthday was like. He doesn’t give a firm answer. Later, he reveals how his birthday felt like a burden on his family, a clear concern that Calum doesn’t want to befall his own kid.
Their time at the resort leads to many scenes where Sophie is given time to grow up. She speaks with the hotel concierge about getting the key to her room when her father forgets about her in the lobby. She hangs out with older kids who play pool and make out. She spends time with a boy her own age and they practice kissing. Sophie even gets a taste of heightened adulthood by being given a special wristband that allows her to order anything she wants from the bar. Calum tries to hold Sophie back from some of this so that she can stay a kid longer but he knows this won’t be possible. He figures as much when he jumps head-first into karaoke despite her father’s mild disagreement of her involvement.
There’s a great of acceptances amid sadness in such a picture. Dipping between scenes of a nightclub and the recorded footage of a video camera, the film becomes an emotional pastiche of a father-daughter relationship. The characters observe the past almost like a whimsical dream, looking back on a formative moment with nostalgia, love, and loss. It makes the final scene of pulling back the camera mean so much, the way an older Sophie watches with longing and the way an older Calum walks off into his next adventure in adulthood.
Aftersun is such a bittersweet contemplation of age and time that it was a deeply moving experience. The best films that touch on these emotional aspects are the ones that feel like they slow down and let you appreciate the moment, lamenting the moments that came before us and what might lie ahead. Few films ever hit that sweet spot but director Charlotte Wells has pulled it off beautifully, delivering a film that is going to sting for any adult that has a child they know they will soon have to let flourish on their own, making the world feel scary for a parent so used to a pattern.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.