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Charlotte Wells’ Aftersun

The echoing melancholy of the past

The sense of memories and longing from the past is a strange and elusive thing. It lurks in the corners of our minds, a ghost that refuses to be silenced. It whispers to us of what once was, of the moments and people and places that are about to fade.

First-time director Charlotte Wells captures this sentiment viscerally in her complex drama about a young father and his daughter.

Written by


Dec 24, 2022

© Mubi

It follows twelve-year-old Sophie and her father Calum on their trip to Turkey. As she navigates the intricacies of growing up, her father Callum struggles beneath the surface of a lighthearted father with a darkness that threatens to consume him.

In between video tape recordings, memories, present and dreams, the film shows Sophie’s perception of the time she spent together with her father. She remembers the witty, silly and loving father, but she also reflects on the father she never really knew.

These memories seem at first glance full of comfort and solace, a relic of the love and joy that once filled their lives. Deeper, they unfold in pain and regret, a constant reminder of what might have been if she would have understand him at that time, but she know, she couldn’t.

With a staggering intimacy and truthfulness, the film creates an echo of memories that seems almost tangible, as if we were leafing through an old photo album. Aftersun creates a sense of the past that feels both deeply personal and familiar. Charlotte Wells blends fragmentary and dreamlike scenes with recordings, memories and images from the present, showing a grown-up Sophie lost in the past.

© Mubi

“In search of the truth that hides between and beyond the things we see.”

It’s not just about the memories of the past that haunt her, but also about how the film is capable of portraying the feeling of lost chances, of her never being able to save him. The feeling of longing and loss, of love and pain is shown in contrast to the summer trip that left the brightest future wide open. A scene of a slowly developing Polaroid shot of the two, captures well the sense of a grasping future alongside the reminiscing of the distant past. As with the Polaroid, whose blank white sheet cannot be recovered, the past can no longer be touched.

What makes the film so heartbreaking is that hope and the promise of the future, like this blank sheet waiting to be filled with her dreams and happiness, meets with the certainty of a predefined future full of grief. Sequences of memories, recordings and dreams make us see everything in relation to each other. Happiness shown becomes sadness and sadness submerges itself with the reminiscence of happiness—it’s being trapped in the past, unable to let go and move on. In the midst of all this sadness, Aftersun shows us a sense of yearning for the things that once were, and the knowledge that they will never be again. In search of the truth that hides between and beyond the things we see.

The weight of time, experience and suffering reveal themselves like burnt-in scars in Paul Mescal’s play—hidden, but at the same time overwhelming in all its physicality. Wells gives this play enough space and time to be able to express more in one scene than all words could, with an ambiguous dance in the dark soaked in silence.

Aftersun draws images of a past that are not only a concentration of experiences, but also a gaze into the soul, as an attempt to understand something beyond comprehension. The various perspectives between reality and dream create an uncannily precise picture of an inner life. Someday, she may find the answers, or they may elude her forever. But the memories remain, even if they can never be fully understood.

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