In A24's Aftersun, Director Charlotte Wells Shows Us That The Journey For Closure Is Equal Parts Painful And Necessary

This piece contains spoilers for "Aftersun," as well as discussions of trauma.

Grief is a feeling that can't be easily described or explained. A lot of questions come with it, and many of them never get answered. As for those that do, those answers aren't usually cut and dry. However, what is important to remember while grieving is to remember the person you're grieving over as they were, not as they are now.

This is the message of "Aftersun," Charlotte Wells' directorial debut that is now in theaters across the United States. The movie mainly depicts a week-long vacation in 1990s Istanbul between the young father Calum (Paul Mescal) and his daughter Sophie (Frankie Corio). Their time spent together seems typical, at first; the two go to the beach, sit by the hotel pool, and play games in an arcade.

However, there is a distinct sadness shining through that only increases as the vacation comes to a close. Sophie is starting to become curious about the freedoms of adulthood, while Calum suddenly falls into periods of disassociation. These hints, along with the framing device of the adult Sophie (Celia Rowlson-Hall) rewatching the videotapes she made during the vacation, suggest that this vacation had a deeper meaning. 

Oh no, I've said too much

All throughout the vacation, Calum puts on a brave face for Sophie. When she isn't around, though, he appears to crumble. When she finds herself hanging out with a group of older kids at the resort, he goes to the beach and walks straight into the ocean.

Water, in particular, is a frequent omen throughout the film. Although the two are vacationing on the beaches of Istanbul, he seems wary of diving into it around Sophie. It's like he is afraid of allowing himself to do something that will scare her away at a time that's supposed to be joyous and memorable.

That's because, in a way, he is. While the audience isn't clued into what exactly was wrong with Calum, there are signs that the promises he gives to Sophie throughout the trip aren't panning out as he claims. When we flash forward and see him sobbing alone in his room, that's when the audience is told that this story is not going to be a happy one.

While it isn't happy, it certainly is cathartic, at least for Sophie. By viewing these tapes, she pieces together the true intent of the vacation; Calum wanted to ensure she remembered him from this trip, not his eventual death.

This is our last dance

Sophie seems to understand that she will never truly know what her father was going through. Even when all the pieces of the puzzle come together, she knows that only he knows the truth about why he did what he did. However, she is okay with that — one could even argue that she is perfectly content with never knowing the inner workings of her father's mind. Maybe she did at one point, but not anymore.

Why is this? Well, she knows that Calum loved her. He loved her with all his heart, and he feared that he was not the father he thought he could be. That Istanbul vacation served not only as his goodbye, but as proof of how much he loved her. He wanted Sophie to remember her as her goofy, tai-chi-practicing father, not a depressed man. He wanted to spare her his pain, and while it may not have been obvious at the time, mental illness never provides obvious answers.

As that final flashing montage races across the screen, we know that Sophie accepts this. It is not a happy or joyful acceptance, but something greater in the context of her journey: it is acceptance driven by finding the closure she's wanted for years. With one final embrace, Sophie and Calum can both rest easier now.

"Aftersun" is now playing in theaters.

If you or a loved one are a survivor of suicide, or have had suicidal ideations of any kind, please consider reaching out to a medical professional, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.