What's your relationship with your father like? Our writer reflects and gains perspectives on parent-child dynamics, paternal depression, and memories after watching this British indie film.
Why are some parents so reluctant to share with their children? I occasionally ask myself this when I look at my parents – my father, particularly. What are you thinking about? What’s with the constant long face? Why that face? I don’t know. Despite our familial relations, we’re just foreign to each other.
Aftersun: A daughter’s (fractured) memories of her father
Aftersun takes place around the early 2000s, when digital camcorders, video cassette tapes, and Discmans were the rage. It follows 11-year-old Sophie and her father, Calum, on a summer holiday in Turkey. Sophie and Calum’s relationship appears to look good at the onset. But as the movie progresses, plenty of things underneath begin to surface.
For one thing, Sophie and Calum are on separate journeys. The tween is on the precipice of puberty. She doesn’t want to be acquainted with girls her age despite her father’s coaxing. Instead, she’s more interested in hanging out with the teenagers holidaying in the same resort. Sophie also has her first kiss with a same-age boy she got to know at the arcade.
Conversely, Calum seems to go down the path of self-destruction. He struggles to be open and honest with Sophie. During a scuba diving trip, he shares his surprise at reaching 30 years of age. It also seems he’s facing difficulties, though these are not explicitly touched on.
Innocence loss and adulthood troubles
“So, when you were eleven, what did you think you would be doing now?” Sophie asks Calum, pointing the digital camcorder at him. He tells her to stop recording and put the video camera away. She playfully protests before he takes it away from her. The question is left hanging; eventually, Calum responds, sharing a little of his traumatic childhood.
Immediately after the scene, my mind wanders to my father. What was his life like before he became a father? Did he have any dreams and aspirations? Was he a good or cheeky or unbearable child? I don’t know, and I probably never will. My father is the typical Asian father – he is our family’s dominant breadwinner, his form of relaxation is sitting and reading newspapers, and having open, honest conversations is not in the cards. He plays up that stoic paternal role to a tee. I resent him for that. When I see or hear of parents – fathers, especially – who are close with their kids, I can’t help but feel a pang of jealousy.
Before this, Sophie jokes about her father “turning 131”. This connects to Calum’s conversation with the diving instructor about making it to 30 but not expecting to reach 40. By way of deduction, this means Calum had Sophie when he was 19, considered young in this day and age. Being a young father, he may not have fully grasped the role’s responsibilities, and we’re left wondering whether this could have contributed to the deterioration of his mental health and his assumption that he won’t live to old age.
The struggles of parenthood
Despite his turmoil, Calum does his best to be a decent father to Sophie. He tries to give her everything, even though she knows his financial situation is less than ideal. He teaches her a simple self-defence tactic, yet Sophie doesn’t take him seriously. In one scene, Calum gets her to play water polo with other hoteliers.
Every parent wants to give their best to their younglings. Much like Calum, I know my father tries his best too. I’m not fond of his ways, but I acknowledge his efforts and well-meaningness. I just wish my father was more forthcoming with his intentions. In some way, I want him to be more like Calum.
As the movie progresses, Calum unravels. He impulsively purchases a Turkish rug, even though he doesn’t have enough money. He refuses to sing karaoke with Sophie, even though it’s been a tradition between the two since she was five. At times, he appears reckless, as if he intentionally wants to die by suicide. It culminates in his breakdown alone in the hotel room, a pivotal scene in Aftersun.
Should parents refrain from sharing with their kids?
In Aftersun’s climax, Calum tells Sophie she can talk to him about anything. “I just want you to promise me that you’ll talk to me about it. Okay?” While this is a sweet, reassuring scene between father and daughter, it feels one-sided. If Calum insists that Sophie can talk to him about anything, why can’t he do the same with her?
Parents, I get it. You want to shield your little ones from life’s brutalities as much as possible. However, let’s not forget that children are more intelligent and aware of the world than we think. Thus, this is an opportune time to develop their perspective taking. Talk to them about feelings, teach them empathy, and help them better understand the world around them.
Despite her young age, Sophie comes across as mature and insightful. She understands what her father’s going through, but wishes he could be more forthcoming. Just as Calum insists that his daughter can tell him anything, Sophie had hoped he could do the same with her.
Dissolution of a relationship
The ending of Aftersun sees the two saying goodbye to each other. Calum then switches off the camcorder, turns away, and walks through double doors. Presumably, that’s the last time Sophie sees her father.
What happens after that trip? The movie doesn’t mention it, but it’s safe to say that Calum ceases to be in Sophie’s life. His camcorder and Turkish rug, however, are in her possession. So what exactly happen to him? Where did he go?
The unreliability of memories
Throughout the film, there are scenes of Calum thrashing about at a strobe-lit rave while someone whose face is obscured watches. That person is eventually revealed to be adult Sophie. She goes up to Calum and tries to cling to him, before pushing him away. This can be seen as a metaphor for Sophie trying to hold on to memories of her father while still coming to terms with him being out of her life.
As we age, our memories tend to get fuzzy, and coupled with emotions associated with them, it may impact what we remember. The rave scenes also signify memories fading away with time; no matter how much we try, we can only remember so much. A lot of times, everything turns up hazy. Because of this, adult Sophie relies on the videotape to look back and reflect on the trip and her father.
Even if one can’t remember everything, that’s not bad. However much you can remember, those memories are the ones that keep people – living or otherwise – alive in spirit. Calum may be out of Sophie’s life, but she still holds on to her memories of him, no matter how fuzzy they’ve gotten.
Aftersun: A quiet, contemplative film
I got curious about the movie after The Projector reshared an Instagram story. Apparently, a moviegoer was crying by the end of the film. “I hope you heal from whatever you’ve experienced” was the text I vaguely recall in the story. Plus, it’s a movie about a father and his child. Crying moviegoer and father-child relationship movie? Count me in; take my money.
When the movie credits rolled, my eyes were still dry. I wasn’t in tears. But I did leave the movie theatre with a sense of unspeakable sadness. Aftersun is not like those movies that punch you in the gut and leave you flailing in pain. It’s a quiet (albeit slow-moving) film that offers a thought-provoking look at parenthood, grief, and mental health. It examines parent-child dynamics. It made me contemplate and reassess my relationship with my parents. Some scenes, in retrospect, left a profound impression on me.
It’s been days since I watched the film, and I’m still affected by it…
Have you watched Aftersun? What’s your relationship with your father like? DM us – let’s have a conversation.