Why You Should Go And Watch Aftersun

January 16th, 2023

Charlotte Wells’ 2022 masterpiece – I’m absolutely calling it that – hit me hard. Not least because it was incredibly difficult to find a screening in central London that was under twenty pounds – more on that later – but also because it captured a trauma that I’ve been going over in my mind ever since. 

Paul Mescal, you may know him from Normal People, you may not, takes his daughter to a quintessentially British family holiday resort somewhere in Europe – Turkey I’m led to believe. Anyway, the feelings that Wells superbly captures – memory, pain, loss, nostalgia – are all complicated. Complicated even further when filmed through the lens of an eleven-year-old Sophie, whose identity meshes, not least with her adult self, but also her late father. This creates a separate layer of consciousness.

The film is from the perspective of Sophie – now an adult, recounting her childhood holiday with her late father. He commits suicide. Walter Benjamin’s Berlin Childhood around 1900 describes this adolescent reflection as ‘staring through the wrong end of a telescope’. The film on the one hand destroys clarity of feeling in an attempt to find some form of adolescent clarity.

It is an epistemological deconstruction of coming of age, which has been complicated by childhood trauma. How do you come of age with so much adolescent trauma? How do even capture that feeling on film? For the most part, the trauma of suicide lingers – you know it’s coming, you just have no idea when. A figure of strength – her father – is a figure of weakness throughout.  

There’s a moment where the picture captures a weeping Mescal, back turned to the camera, rejecting the audience, rejecting the present. Wells invites you in to view this, almost as an apotheosis of feeling. We know that Sophie’s father is sad. But how can you capture that on film? How can you make someone understand your suffering? We don’t know why he weeps. But that’s the point. It can become something you make your own. You have been invited to collectivise your own trauma and put that on Mescal. We find meaning through great art, and what this picture does is beautifully capture the complications with how that takes form.  

The film became something I made my own. Culturally, we relentlessly try to attach meaning to our past, mainly because our present is nothing without our past. I felt perturbed, fragile, and sad. I’m not sure whether it was the vessel of salted popcorn that I’d consumed, the five Jameson’s I’d lugged down my gullet in the aftermath of the film, or the fact I’d paid a small fortune to see it (which I absolutely do not regret). But it’s stunning. It’s beautifully stunning and you should go and watch it.

Callum Hyde, London 2023

The Glacé Film Club is a podcast hosted by Callum Hyde and Marcus Johnson. It sees them dig deeply into the themes behind a film and discuss the wider impact and resonance of the picture. Along the way they find themselves engaging in creative conversations with individuals from the film industry and beyond. You can stream the back catalogue of the podcast over on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.