Aftersun is one of the best films to come out of 2022, winning dozens of awards, including the British Academy Film Award for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director, or Producer. If you haven’t seen Aftersun yet, you should stop reading this article and go watch it right now. If you’ve already seen it, you probably have some questions about the film itself, ranging from what happened to Calum all the way to what was even the point of it.
Let’s quickly take a look at Aftersun and try to answer any questions you might have about this coming-of-age film that made many reconsider their relationships with their parents.
What was the point of Aftersun?
On the surface, Aftersun is a coming-of-age drama about an 11-year-old daughter and her soon-to-be 31-year-old father on vacation in Turkey. The viewer watches home video clips of the two on vacation, mixed in with some scenes of them that weren’t shot by the characters to fill the gaps.
Calum (Paul Mescal) is very caring of Sophie (Frankie Corio). He tries teaching her to defend herself from any would-be-attackers, makes sure she has enough sunscreen and talks to her about more sensitive topics like boys. However, it’s clear that there is something wrong in Calum’s life.
Calum often drinks, but more than one should be on a vacation with their daughter as their guardian. He drinks to the point of passing out in bed naked in their shared hotel room, but not before almost disappearing in the waves of the ocean after wandering out drunk one night.
That night when he walks out into the ocean drunk is just one of many times where Calum has shown reckless abandonment for his own safety. Other times include walking out in front of a bus and not caring, along with mentioning to the diving instructor that he’s surprised he made it to 30 and probably won’t make it to 40.
Calum’s apathy towards his own life and safety are clearly signs of depression, something Sophie couldn’t see as a young girl. That’s why she’s sitting there looking back on it after two decades. She’s trying to see if she missed anything, if there were signs, if her father was asking for help.
Aftersun will make you rethink every memory with your parents. You’ll begin to wonder if they were hurting, too, if they had something on their mind that they couldn’t show because they felt that they had to be strong for you. You’ll look back on old memories, photos, and videos and wonder about the relationship you had—or didn’t.
What happens to Calum in Aftersun?
We’re told from the small description of the movie that it’s their last vacation together; what we aren’t told is why. After watching Aftersun, it’s pretty clear that Calum either takes his own life at some point after the vacation or dies in an accident brought on by his reckless behavior. At the very least, he is no longer a part of her life if he is still alive.
We can assume this from a few key clues. The first is that it’s their last vacation together, as we mentioned before. The other clues are how, throughout the film, he shows no regard for his own safety. Whether he’s swimming out in the ocean at night drunk or almost getting hit by a bus, he’s clearly depressed. His drinking is out of control, and he knows it. He tells Sophie that it’s not okay for him to pass out in bed, showing that he knows he has a problem.
Calum is also crying in the hotel room that same night that he could’ve almost drowned, crying over a note he’s leaving to Sophie telling her, “I love you very much. Don’t forget that.” These words are spoken by many parents that aren’t planning an untimely end, but paired with everything else in Calum’s life, it’s truly a sign of what’s to come.
We also have some other subtle signs in the movie, such as the choice of music and the scenes from the nightclub that are interspaced throughout the film. Beginning with the music, at the end of the film, when Sophie and Calum are dancing, “Under Pressure” is playing, clearly referencing the enormous pressure Calum feels to be a good father as he struggles with his own demons. The final shot before we see Sophie watching the tapes has the final lines from the song saying, “This is our last dance.”
Moving on to the nightclub, at the end of the film, we see Sophie walk away while Calum closes the camcorder and enters a set of double doors behind him that lead to the nightclub we’ve seen interspaced throughout the film. The nightclub is hard to understand since it flashes on screen very briefly, but we see Sophie as a 31-year-old adult trying to get to her father, who is the same version as the one on vacation.
This can be interpreted in a few different ways, but regardless it certainly shows that she never knew her father after that vacation. The Calum in the club is the same Calum all those years ago, while Sophie has aged with time. Whether it’s because he committed suicide or wasn’t in her life for another reason is unknown. That said, the depression and previous signs are pretty clearly pointing towards Calum taking his own life at some point shortly after the vacation.
One of the last things to point out is the scene with the rug. Sophie points out a rug she likes, but it’s expensive, and we know Calum doesn’t have money after Sophie points out that he can’t pay for her singing lessons because “I know you don’t have the money” (ouch, Soph). Calum goes back and buys the rug anyways because he knows that he will die soon, and it will be one more thing for Sophie to remember him by—which is what the extended vacation to Turkey is, one last happy memory to leave with Sophie.