"Aftersun" (2022) Ending Explained: Emotional complexity & Power of Ambiguity


"Aftersun" found itself in the spotlight of Hollywood's most prestigious event, due to its compelling narrative and outstanding performances. Notably, Paul Mescal's portrayal as Calum secured him a well-deserved nomination for Best Actor.

The film delves into the story of Calum, a single father on a transformative holiday with his daughter Sophie, portrayed by Frankie Corio, at a Turkish resort. It weaves a tapestry of emotions, exploring themes of depression, guilt, memory, and love through the lens of the young and perceptive Sophie.

While "Aftersun" navigates the complexities of human emotions, it also doubles as a visually stunning vacation movie. The relatable experiences and breathtaking settings serve as a backdrop to the powerful exploration of the characters' inner worlds.

Sophie and Calum's Relationship

Sophie, the young Scottish girl, embarks on a holiday with her single father, Calum. The portrayal of their familial dynamics is subtle yet profound. The initial scenes present a bond that, while kind and easygoing, bears the markings of occasional distance. As they play pool mistaken for siblings, the film hints at an unconventional closeness, challenging traditional guardian-child norms.

Sophie rests on Calum's shoulders - Aftersun 2022 - Mubi , A24 , BBC
Image Credit: Mubi | A24 | BBC

"Aftersun" invites us to ponder the unconventional aspects of Sophie and Calum's connection. The narrative subtly explores the idea that they, in some ways, stand closer to being equals than the typical guardian-child dynamic. The film maintains a delicate balance, never quite revealing the specifics of their family history but guiding us to infer a past where Sophie's parents separated years ago.

As we eavesdrop on a check-in phone call between Calum and his ex-wife, a picture of an amicable separation comes to light. Calum's assurance that they will always be family despite living apart hints at an underlying emotional complexity. The film navigates this unconventional family structure, leaving room for interpretation about Calum's lingering emotions and the intricacies of their past.

What Happens In The Aftersun Ending?

The concluding scenes of the film take us to the airport, where Calum and Sophie bid farewell after a transformative vacation. Calum waves goodbye as Sophie heads back to her mother's house, and the camera seamlessly transitions to an unexpected revelation – the scene is a home video being watched by an adult Sophie (Celia Rowlson-Hall).

Sophie is seen with her own family, sorting through old videos of the trip. The boundaries between past and present blur as we witness Sophie's layered experience through the lens of a camcorder.

Calum recording video - Aftersun 2022 - Mubi , A24 , BBC
Image Credit: Mubi | A24 | BBC

As the scenes unfold, the camera pans back to the young Sophie waving to her father at the airport. This time, however, Calum is in view, holding the very camcorder that documented their entire trip. In a symbolic break from the narrative, Calum seems to break the fourth wall, filming the audience from a sterile hallway before disappearing into a rave.

The intentional ambiguity of the ending leaves us pondering the fate of Calum. The doors closing behind him as he enters the rave symbolize an uncertain, perhaps even ominous, future. It's a powerful cinematic choice, compelling us to reflect on the intricacies of life, loss, and the inevitability of change.

What's gone wrong in Calum's life?

Calum's troubles surface as we glean insights from his conversations with Sophie. The revelation that his long-term relationship has ended, leading to financial strain, becomes a poignant undercurrent in the story. The aftermath of a breakup, coupled with economic strain, challenges Calum's plans, including the dream of opening a cafe that now seems unattainable.

Calum depressed - Aftersun 2022 - Mubi , A24 , BBC
Image Credit: Mubi | A24 | BBC

As we explore Calum's life just before the trip, it becomes evident that he's grappling not only with emotional turmoil but also with the practical consequences of unemployment. The film subtly hints at his ambitious plans, such as renting a house with a friend to create a stable environment for Sophie. Yet, the challenges he faces, both financially and emotionally, cast a shadow over these aspirations.

The nuances of Calum's financial struggles are woven seamlessly into the narrative. From the absence of all-inclusive wristbands to smoking used cigarettes and dining and dashing, the film paints a picture of a man caught in the grip of economic constraints. While money is tight, there are moments when Calum, paradoxically, indulges in seemingly extravagant choices, such as purchasing an expensive Turkish rug on a whim.

Beyond the surface-level financial challenges, "Aftersun" delicately unravels the layers of Calum's mental health struggles. His breakup, unemployment, and seemingly impractical spending choices are not just symptoms but manifestations of a deeper internal crisis.

Do Sophie and Calum ever see each other again?

The film, true to its enigmatic nature, leaves us with subtle hints and an intentionally ambiguous ending, inviting interpretation. In one of the film's most poignant scenes, Calum invites Sophie to a dance, marking the last night of their vacation. The dance unfolds with a certain awkward joy, symbolizing a father's persistent attempt to connect with his daughter.

Hands of Sophie and Calum holding - Aftersun 2022 - Mubi , A24 , BBC
Image Credit: Mubi | A24 | BBC

The song playing, "Under Pressure" by David Bowie and Queen, echoes the pressures and challenges Calum faces. Importantly, the lyrics hint at the gravity of the moment — "this is our last dance." Literally and figuratively, it suggests that this dance might be one of the last moments they share.

The dance becomes a symbolic gesture, encapsulating the complexities of their relationship. Calum's unconventional moves mirror the unpredictability of life, while Sophie's hesitant participation reflects the uncertainty of her understanding. The "last dance" isn't just a farewell to a vacation; it seems to foreshadow a more profound departure.

As the film concludes, we are left with an intentionally ambiguous ending. The fate of Calum and Sophie is veiled in uncertainty. The film doesn't provide a definitive answer, leaving room for interpretation. This deliberate choice by director Charlotte Wells adds to the depth of the narrative, emphasizing the unresolved nature of life's trajectories.

Throughout "Aftersun," there are hints that suggest a more somber fate for Calum. The scenes of him entering a rave, coupled with the film's overall exploration of depression, leave an indelible mark. The ambiguity allows viewers to reflect on the characters' destinies, fostering a personal connection to the narrative.

Did Calum Took His Own Life In The End?

Throughout the film, scenes subtly hint at Calum's deep-seated depression. An early, seemingly casual moment where he steps in front of an oncoming bus becomes a stark indicator of a mind clouded by despair. While nothing unfolds in that instance, it foreshadows a troubling mental state that permeates Calum's character.

Calum - Aftersun 2022 - Mubi , A24 , BBC
Image Credit: Mubi | A24 | BBC

Calum's coping mechanisms take center stage as he hides his smoking and financial struggles from Sophie. His frequent engagement in Tai Chi and obsessive reading of self-help books are attempts to navigate through an internal crisis. These behaviors, when viewed collectively, paint a picture of a man desperately seeking solace and understanding.

The film doesn't shy away from revealing Calum's internal struggles through his dialogues. His admission to a diving instructor that he never expected to see 40 and the breakdown alone in his hotel room over letters addressed to Sophie lay bare the profound impact of his mental health struggles. The signs are so evident that swimming alone at night could be interpreted as a foreshadowing of a tragic outcome.

While "Aftersun" doesn't explicitly state Calum's fate, the carefully crafted narrative and visual cues provide a window into the character's profound struggle. The film delicately handles the topic of mental health, shedding light on the complexity of depression and the challenges individuals face in seeking help.

Sophie's Experience of the Vacation

Sophie's journey unfolds as a tale of youthful exuberance and self-discovery. On this tropical vacation with her father Calum, Sophie embraces the freedom of a less structured environment, away from the confines of everyday life.

As we observe Sophie's interactions, a dynamic tapestry of relationships emerges. A chance friendship with a boy her age, explored through arcade games and adolescent banter, serves as a metaphor for the awkward dance of budding relationships. The film delicately juxtaposes moments of innocence with glimpses into Sophie's future romantic inclinations.

Sophie - Aftersun 2022 - Mubi , A24 , BBC
Image Credit: Mubi | A24 | BBC

The narrative weaves through the delicate threads of teenage social dynamics. Sophie's observant nature leads her to eavesdrop on conversations about foreplay and self-reflection in front of a bathroom mirror. The film expertly captures her grappling with the expectations of maturity, as seen in her attempts to understand the balance between growing up and embracing her youth.

Sophie's vacation is a canvas for the exploration of her relationship with Calum and self-discovery. The scenes of water polo, poolside socializing, and the poignant father-daughter dance underscore the complexities of their bond. Through these moments, we witness a girl on the cusp of adolescence, studying her father and peers as if decoding the secrets of life's next chapter.

The film reveals Sophie's perceptiveness, showcasing moments when she confronts Calum about his peculiar behaviors. From describing her own bouts of feeling "down" to questioning him about his life at 11, Sophie's inquiries are subtle yet probing. Her frustration, visible when Calum's moods dictate their interactions, hints at the challenges of understanding and connecting with a parent grappling with internal struggles.

Sophie & The Camcorder

Sophie, carries a camcorder throughout the vacation, capturing moments that, at the time, seem ordinary and carefree. However, the significance of this device transforms as the film unfolds, revealing Sophie's unwitting role as a chronicler of her own history.

Young Sophie Uses Video Camera pointing To Calum - Aftersun 2022 - Mubi , A24 , BBC
Image Credit: Mubi | A24 | BBC

The juxtaposition between what Sophie films and the hidden struggles of her father becomes a poignant theme. While she joyfully records snippets of their trip, including playful poolside moments and teenage socializing, the camcorder remains oblivious to the depth of Calum's internal turmoil.

The adult Sophie revisits these home videos as a form of reflection and understanding. The scenes where she sorts through the recorded memories serve as a powerful metaphor for the broader theme of the film — the quest to comprehend her father's pain, hidden beneath the surface of seemingly idyllic moments.

Adult Sophie Uses The Video Camera To Remember Her Father - Aftersun 2022 - Mubi , A24 , BBC
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The purpose behind revisiting these home videos is clear — Sophie is on a quest to unveil the hidden signs of her father's depression. Scenes she couldn't possibly have witnessed as a child, like Calum crying after his night swim, now become crucial pieces in her search for answers.

"Aftersun" skillfully employs the concept of home videos to depict the stark contrast between the innocence of childhood and the complexities of adult struggles. Sophie, armed with the retrospective lens of the camcorder, becomes an unintentional detective, piecing together the puzzle of her father's emotional journey.

The Rug

The rug becomes more than a mere piece of decor; it transforms into a symbol of the enduring love and connection between Calum and Sophie. A moment in the film captures the essence of this symbolism when Calum and Sophie visit a store in Turkey. Calum, unable to afford the rug at that time, later returns in secret to purchase it, gifting it to Sophie as a token of their shared experience.

Calum resing on rug on floor - Aftersun 2022 - Mubi , A24 , BBC
Image Credit: Mubi | A24 | BBC

The rug, prominently displayed in Sophie's living space, becomes more than just a piece of interior decor. It encapsulates the essence of their vacation, the laughter shared, and the unspoken connection between father and daughter.

Calum And Sophie Dance To "Under Pressure"

Calum's reluctance to engage in dancing or singing becomes a recurring theme throughout the film. Whether it's declining Sophie's invitation to karaoke or appearing somber during a birthday serenade, Calum's hesitation hints at deeper emotional struggles. It's a manifestation of the weight he carries, refusing the cathartic release that dancing might offer.

Sophie and Calum dance to Under Pressure - Aftersun 2022 - Mubi , A24 , BBC
Image Credit: Mubi | A24 | BBC

The choice of "Under Pressure" for their final dance is deliberate and laden with meaning. The lyrics of the song resonate with Calum's mental state, adding layers of emotion to the scene. The title itself, "Under Pressure," alludes to the burdens and challenges Calum faces in his life, both emotionally and financially.

As the lyrics unfold, we find poignant lines that mirror Calum's journey. The outro's repeated refrain, "This is our last dance," echoes the poignant moment of the father-daughter dance itself. The words "This is ourselves under pressure" encapsulate the internal struggles Calum grapples with, providing a soundtrack to his silent battles.

The song's verses, addressing family strife and financial struggles, align with Calum's experiences. "Under pressure that burns a building down/Splits a family in two/Puts people on streets" becomes more than a lyrical expression; it becomes a foreshadowing of the challenges Calum faces.

The Rave Sequences

Far from a celebratory dance, Calum's movements are frenzied and contorted, revealing the turmoil within. The rhythmic chaos mirrors the dissonance in his mind, providing viewers with a visceral glimpse into his emotional landscape.

Calum dances in the rave - Aftersun 2022 - Mubi , A24 , BBC
Image Credit: Mubi | A24 | BBC

The dance sequences become a visual metaphor for the battles Calum fights behind the scenes. While on the surface, he engages in everyday activities with Sophie, the rave scenes expose the unseen anguish that haunts him. The disconnect between the external facade and the internal chaos is vividly captured in these moments of uninhibited dance.

For Sophie, these rave sequences play a crucial role in her evolving comprehension of her father's mental state. Initially, these scenes might seem disjointed from their idyllic vacation, but as the film progresses, Sophie begins to connect the dots. The sensory overload and frenetic dancing become the visual language through which she deciphers the depth of her father's struggles.

The rave scenes transcend the ordinary portrayal of dance in cinema. Instead, they become a manifestation of Calum's emotional turmoil. The sensory overload, vibrant lights, and energetic dance represent the cacophony within his mind, a vivid illustration of the struggles he conceals from the world.

The Real Meaning of Ending

"Aftersun" transcends the conventions of a typical narrative, weaving together themes of misery, grief, and nostalgia. The film's ending serves as a poignant reflection on the complexity of human emotions, portraying a reality where understanding the depths of someone's pain requires years of reflection.

Sophie and Calum spend time at resort - Aftersun 2022 - Mubi , A24 , BBC
Image Credit: Mubi | A24 | BBC

One of the major themes encapsulated in the film's ending is the difficulty of comprehending the internal struggles of others. Calum's profound depression, hidden beneath the surface of seemingly joyful moments, showcases the silent battles individuals face.

The heart of "Aftersun's" ending lies in the power of revisiting memories. Sophie, now an adult, sifts through home videos, seeking answers to questions she couldn't comprehend as a child. This act becomes a therapeutic journey, a way to bridge the gap between the blissful ignorance of youth and the somber understanding that comes with maturity.

Sophie and Calum - Aftersun 2022 - Mubi , A24 , BBC
Image Credit: Mubi | A24 | BBC

In the midst of the film's melancholy, there is a powerful message — the ability to find solace in shared happiness. Despite the underlying tragedy, Sophie's recollection of the joyful moments with her father becomes a source of comfort. The enduring impact of their time together, symbolized by the rug and the father-daughter dance, offers a bittersweet reminder that even in the face of loss, the echoes of shared joy persist.

"Aftersun" closes the chapter with a poignant acknowledgment that grieving is often a lifelong process. The film doesn't neatly tie up loose ends or offer definitive answers. Instead, it presents grief as a complex journey that requires time, reflection, and acceptance.

Is "Aftersun" Based on a True Story?

The allure of authenticity often beckons viewers to question whether the compelling narrative of "Aftersun" has roots in real-life experiences. The film's director, Charlotte Wells, provides insights into the film's origins. While the style and emotional resonance of the movie may give it an autobiographical feel, Wells clarifies that the story itself is not a direct reflection of her life.

Wells acknowledges that the tone and ambiance of "Aftersun" draw from her own recollections, infusing the film with a genuine emotional texture. Interestingly, she had previously explored themes related to her personal experiences in a short film titled "Tuesday," which grappled with the emotions surrounding the death of her father during her teenage years. The echoes of her emotional landscape seem to reverberate through "Aftersun."

However, it's crucial to distinguish between emotional inspiration and a factual account. "Aftersun" appears to be a work of fiction, with Wells crafting a narrative that, while emotionally resonant, doesn't directly mirror her life events.

Wrap Up

"Aftersun" doesn't offer neat resolutions or straightforward answers, opting instead to delve into the nuanced realities of love, loss, and the profound impact of shared experiences. At its core, the film serves as a powerful advocate for mental health awareness. Through the character of Calum, the film sheds light on the silent struggles that individuals face, often concealed behind a veneer of normalcy. The intentional exploration of depression, hinted at through subtle scenes and symbolic sequences, underscores the importance of fostering empathy and understanding.

The film's visual language, from the poignant dance scenes to the symbolic rug that transcends time, leaves an indelible imprint. Every frame is carefully crafted to convey layers of meaning, inviting viewers to engage in thoughtful interpretation. The rug, the dance, and the home videos become metaphors for the enduring impact of shared memories.

"Aftersun" challenges conventional storytelling by embracing ambiguity in its ending. The deliberate choice to leave the fate of Calum and Sophie open-ended fosters a deeper connection with the characters.

Watch "Aftersun" on Amazon Prime Video.

Aftersun (2022) Ending Explained Emotional complexity & Power of Ambiguity

Author: Kristy R. Wilson

Author/Writer - Kristy R. Wilson

Meet Kristy R. Wilson, an enthusiastic writer with an insatiable passion for storytelling. She specializes in crafting captivating narratives inspired by her deep love for entertainment, and avidly follows stories in these genres. Kristy's expertise and research-driven articles immerse readers in the thrilling world of Movies & TV shows, ensuring an entertaining experience for all.

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