Time is a finite thing we have on this planet. During our brief part in history, we tend to want to remember the good moments and treasure the most meaningful feelings. Aftersun is a film all about trying to preserve those moments of parenthood that are formative yet sad. Watching children grow up is not easy, even with the best relationships. It’s a bittersweet feeling that permeates nearly every moment of this freewheeling connection between father and daughter.
The father is Calum (Paul Mescal) and the daughter is 11-year-old Sophie (Frankie Corio). The two of them are on vacation in Turkey. It’d be a great time for the two of them to connect and maybe learn a little bit more about each other. Calum, however, doesn’t seem completely ready to divulge his history. The film opens with Sophie recording him on a camera and asking him how he spent his 11th birthday. He doesn’t answer until much later.
Until that meaningful revelation, the film meanders around as Calum slowly comes to the realization that Sophie is not going to be his little girl anymore. He watches as she starts gravitating towards the older kids playing pool and fancying boys her own age. There’s a part of him that doesn’t want to let go but he realizes he needs to do it. This leads to quietly sad moments of Calum feeling his daughter’s hand loosening from his parental guidance.
There’s this somber sensation that lurks underneath all the simple moments of joy between father and daughter throughout this trip. Calum never becomes a helicopter parent who is either too protective or too desperate. At the same time, he realizes that an era is ending and that he might not be able to face the world outside of parenthood. Within Calum was a certain contentment that came with the love of his daughter and this vacation marks a turning point in their bond. She’s going to grow up and she’s going to leave him. Where will Calum go from there? He doesn’t know for sure and facing a new chapter outside of being a father feels like a deeply forlorn future.
Writer and director Charlotte Wells perfectly craft this tender picture with an air of realism and heart. There’s rarely a moment that doesn’t come off as genuine and relatable. Everything from Calum’s sweet glances on the train to Sophie’s eyeballing of teenagers making out feel like real moments of parenthood and adolescence in a slow state of natural decay. It’s the part of being a parent that you might not want to arrive at but definitely one you want to remember. It makes the nostalgic camcorder footage of the vacation that bookends the film bring about tears so easily for the warmth it conjures.
Aftersun beautifully hones in on a somewhat tough-to-describe aspect of time and growth, treated with heartfelt sadness and warmth. Through its pastiche of slowing down and taking a moment to smell the roses, here is a film that lets the audience appreciate that satisfying glow that emits from looking back on old family videos or flipping through a family photo album. It’s tough to describe just how much of a tearjerker this film becomes and why it hits so hard. But, wow, it is an amazing feeling, making you feel more alive and cherishing what little time we have on this planet.