Film & TV

Aftersun; The Last Dance

Sophie Conner

Picture credits; A24

My mum holds the lore of Rotten Tomatoes highly. She loves a good film and adores a great one. Unlike my mum, my dad is rather content with watching Taken 1, 2 and 3 at any time and in any order. He is a simple man. My mum, however, has a keen eye for cinema and an irrevocable tendency to read too many reviews before getting comfortable. It is both a blessing and curse; it means she finds some absolute hidden gems, but it also means that she will protest against any Adam Sandler comfort movie. I mean, the 11% that Grown Ups proudly hides behind will steer any film snob away…

Needless to say, on her birthday, we sat and watched Charlotte Wells’ BAFTA award-winning film, Aftersun. She was nagging and nagging to watch it, constantly reinforcing its supposed amazement. Having already fallen in love with Paul Mescal in Normal People, I was more than happy to watch it on the big screen.

It started off slow, introducing itself as an intimate portrait capturing the early dynamics of a father-and-daughter duo, Calum and Sophie. Ribboned with waves of nostalgia, we watched closely and smiled tenderly, watching their relationship through a VHS lens as they stayed at an all-inclusive resort in Turkey. It utilised the colour palettes of childhood, covering subtle nuances of shade from the fresh breeze of the ocean to the corniness of the evening entertainment. The nostalgia was spot on.

But this isn’t only a coming-of-age story about a father and daughter; this is a story that holds a haunting truth about mental health. As the film rolls on, and without sharing too much, it becomes clear that Calum is battling with his mental health outside of fatherhood. We are torn between scenes of Calum in despair, and scenes of Calum attempting connection with his daughter. The film is revealed to be fragments of memory, and we are watching this tale unfold just as adult Sophie replays the old tapes back in her current apartment. Our tenderness and poignancy are thus a shared feeling, transforming into gaping holes of absence and loss at what once was.

The finale of the film is a goose-bump-generating sequence. It ends with Calum annihilating the dance floor with his dad dancing, embarrassing young Sophie, whilst Under Pressure echoes around the scene. The scene captures pure and innocent happiness. They begin to dance together, Calum spinning Sophie around with the lyrics, “this is our last dance”, playing overhead. This scene is interrupted by kaleidoscopic flashes of adult Sophie catching glimpses of Calum at a rave. She calls for him, yet he doesn’t hear. There is a back-and-forth, harsh juxtaposition of the scenes, the latter being an uncomfortable watch. Young Sophie and Calum lovingly embrace, establishing their bittersweet finale. Mirroring the scene, adult Sophie painstakingly grasps Calum into an embrace, a hold which cries, please don’t go. The reverb symphony is now screaming at us through the speakers, “Why can’t we give love that one more chance?”

The gaping absence returns. Callum is gone. Sophie stands alone—the exact words of the script: blunt, monotonous, haunting. The film ends as adult Sophie finishes the tapes, juxtaposed by Calum stopping the recording and saying his goodbyes. He walks back into the rave, affirming his fate and thus, walks back into her memories.

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