Trailers for the A24 movie Aftersun, directed by Charlotte Wells, featured clips of a father and daughter vacationing in a resort on the Turkish coast. Figuring that if I wanted to watch home-video style footage of two strangers’ vacation, I could simply make a Facebook account and scroll, I was not one to rush to theaters on October 21, 2022 upon the movie’s release. Having finally watched it recently, I stand by my decision not to pay for a ticket to see it in theaters; it is best that no public audience had to witness the waterworks this beautifully crafted cinematic masterpiece evoked from me.
Aftersun takes on a format that I would describe as quiltlike. As a present day Sophie turns thirty-one, she reminisces on the vacation she, at age eleven, took with her single, young father, Calum, for his thirty-first birthday through both cinematically drawn out memories and old videos of the trip. Wells stitches together the fabrics of two decades ago with the material of modern day Sophie, as well as flashes of her watching her father dancing at a party that seems to only exist in a dream state separate from the realities of both the past and present. The result is a quilt that tells the audience a story only once all of the pieces have been woven together.
At first, Aftersun dresses as a coming-of-age movie. The storyline seems to solely follow a young Sophie while she tries to figure out where she stands on the cusp of adolescence as she observes both herself and the slightly older peers she meets on vacation. Then, suddenly, the perspective widens as different fabrics are added to the quilt, including clips of Calum’s struggles with mental health that remain unseen by his daughter. Suddenly, the abstract splicings of the protagonists at a non-existent party where Sophie cannot seem to reach her father despite her best efforts are no longer random when pieced together with scenes of her currently struggling to cope with the weight of memories with the father she knew and the man he never allowed her to see.
This format is not only what separates Aftersun from other movies but what makes it, in my opinion, the perfect contemplation of the curtain a parent must painfully draw to cover parts of their lives from their children and the perseverance of even our most fragile memories. Most of all, though, I must applaud Aftersun for what I believe is the most accurate capturing of the struggles of mental illness I have seen in a movie.
While I adore and recommend movies such as Perks of Being a Wallflower, Silver Linings Playbook, A Beautiful Mind, and Black Swan, they are each in their own right portrait pieces – analyses of specific characters with unique stories and traits that some people may or may not relate to rather than discussions of mental illness at a larger scale. Mental illness cannot be pinned down through one linear storyline, as I would argue it is not a linear experience for anyone suffering from it. It can be trapping yourself in the grief of both what did and did not happen. It can be the constant brand on your chest hidden from those around you. It can be dancing alone in a dark party where even as you are surrounded by people, those closest to you cannot reach you.
Though Aftersun is a difficult movie to watch, I implore all who can to do so. It is an hour and thirty-six minutes of your time that is more than worth it.