Review: ‘Aftersun,’ one of the year’s great debut films, is a piercing father-daughter story of love, self-awareness, and the dark, disturbing pathos of growing old
There’s a scene in Aftersun that I remember well. It’s a scene that could very easily have served as the centerpiece of a Lifetime movie. It’s a scene in which a father goes to a funeral for his father (a very close friend), and he meets his dying daughter’s new girlfriend, whom he discovers to be his own father’s son. Aftersun is so startlingly powerful, the opening scene is enough to make any movie worth seeing, but it’s the two-year anniversary of its release that makes this film so compelling. It’s a film that’s so rich, so rich in meaning, and so rich in emotion.
Aftersun is based on the memoir of photographer Christopher (Anthony La Puma) and his daughter (Emily Meade). Her mother took to photography as a career after her husband was diagnosed with AIDS. Christopher followed, but found that his days of making money in the field were cut short when he was diagnosed with lung cancer and quickly began a decline. He was in the hospital for three weeks, during which his daughter came to visit often, with the hope that he would recover in time for her graduation from high school the following year. He would recover, only to have his lungs removed, and he died days later, unable to live without the oxygen he needed.
Aftersun is set in Baltimore, Maryland, in the mid-1990s. There’s an era of decline—when fathers and sons are losing touch, when people are struggling with the reality of life-and-death decisions. They’re not sure what to say to each other or how to show any kind of love or kindness, and all forms of communication are fraught with misunderstandings. Christopher and his daughter begin writing to each other—letters and poetry and music. They are so in love (and so close to the end of one another’s relationship) that when they’re given a chance to reunite, they feel free to do so. What began as a way to keep Christopher alive—to write for him