In this section of our Colossus Movie Guide for Aftersun, we look at important motifs that help us understand the film.
- Paul Mescal – Calum
- Frankie Corio – young Sophie
- Celia Rowlson-Hall – adult Sophie
- Sally Messham – Belinda
- Brooklyn Toulson – Michael
- Spike Fearn – Olly
- Harry Perdios – Toby
- Ruby Thompson – Laura
- Ethan James Smith – Scott
- Kayleigh Coleman – Jane
- Charlotte Wells – Writer and director
Important motifs in Aftersun
Aftersun opens with recorded video footage from Calum and Sophie’s vacation. It starts with Calum on the balcony of their hotel room, then shifts into Sophie’s dream about the rave, then to the footage of Sophie boarding the airplane at the end of vacation. This opening sequence establishes Sophie is looking back at the vacation footage on her 31st birthday—the age when Calum took his own life. Thus, cameras becomes a means of revisiting memories.
It’s fitting, then, that the movie ends with Calum putting away the video camera. This is an interesting visual twist. The camera footage we see throughout Aftersun serves as live documentation of the vacation; a means for Sophie to revisit the past. By revisiting those memories, Sophie is hopeful to find catharsis and understand her father.
But this final shot puts something else into perspective: Sophie can’t fully see her father through that footage, through those memories. I believe that’s the point of the following two shots in the film. The first is Calum on a television screen as Sophie records him, and the second is Calum’s reflection on the screen after he asks her to turn the camera off.
I love these shots. They perfectly captures the disorienting reality of memory. There is ample footage of Calum on this vacation for Sophie to look back on. But there are also moments that solely exist in Sophie’s memory. In a moment where Calum became vulnerable and recalled painful memories from his childhood, the television screen becomes a way of preserving the discussion in Sophie’s own memory. As we discussed in the Ending Explained and Themes and Meaning sections, memories are powerful entities that both make us feel closer and further away from the past. So anytime you see cameras in Aftersun, the motif is packed with bittersweet truths about existence.
Hang gliders are an interesting motif in Aftersun because the image evolves as the movie progresses. When Sophie first inquires about going hang gliding, Calum says, “You’re too young, poppet.” In that moment, there’s a long, calming shot of a lone hang glider in the sky as Sophie watches on. As the movie progresses, the hang gliders multiply and swirl around each other in the sky. And eventually, as seen above, they are reflected in the pool water.
You wouldn’t think much of the hang gliders if Wells didn’t feature them so prominently in the film. In my opinion, the image captures Sophie’s relationship with her father as a child, and Sophie’s desire to understand her father as an adult. When Sophie was a child, Calum regarded hang gliding as dangerous. This lines up with other behaviors we see from Calum, who constantly frets about applying sunblock and teaching Sophie self-defense. He is very concerned for her safety, likely a reflection of his own existential crisis. But when Sophie reflects on the vacation as an adult, she likely envisions the hang gliders to symbolize the distance she now feels from a man who hid his depression from her.
I personally love the shot of the hang gliders reflected in the pool. I might be reading too much into it, but I think this image captures the aura of memory and reflection. In this moment, we aren’t watching the hang gliders from Sophie’s perspective, but instead from a tangential perspective. It’s almost an instance of world building for Sophie’s memories, building out this ethereal realm where her final moments with her father exist. Much like these hang gliders, we aren’t necessarily watching Calum and Sophie on vacation, but a memory of them on vacation. This disorienting view of memory is discussed heavily in the Ending Explained and Themes and Meaning sections.
There’s only last image I’d like to note—and again, mind you, this could be me reading into things way too much. But while Sophie and Calum are showering and rinsing the mud off their bodies, there’s a shot of the dirty water as the mud runs off them.
To me, the way the water and mud swirls and flows off their bodies recalls the shots of the hang gliders. While the hang gliders represent distance, the mud is uncomfortably close. While the hang gliders are perfectly visible and concrete, the mud is cloudy and abstract. Paired side by side, I feel these complementary images capture the murkiness of Sophie’s memory, her anxiety to understand why her father was so depressed.
At one point in the movie, Calum asks about purchasing a rug. As he tells Sophie, each rug has different symbols that tell different stories, and one specific rug speaks to him. But it turns out the rug is much too expensive. Later, however, when Sophie is hanging out with the older kids, Calum returns to buy the rug. And he shares a sober moment with the rug as he lies on the ground.
Many people might not catch this, but the rug returns later in the movie in Sophie’s apartment. She wakes up from a dream and we see it beside her bed.
Sophie has just finished dreaming about her father at a rave. We never learn if there was an actual rave where something happened to Calum. But regardless, the rave comes to represent the distance she felt from her father. She searches desperately for Calum, trying her best to save him from whatever terrible fate awaits him. After waking up from that dream, she places her feet on the ground. Then her partner rises from the bed and wishes her a happy birthday.
All in all, the rug comes to represent solace for Calum, despondency for Sophie. Calum had money troubles, but felt such a strong connection to a certain rug despite not understanding the symbols on the rug. He shared an inherent connection with the rug that brought him peace on a trip where he was severely depressed. Sophie keeps the rug as a solemn reminder of her father, who took his own life at her present age as an adult, 31. The rug is part of her ongoing narrative to understand her father’s emotional turmoil at that age.
What are your thoughts?
Are there more motifs you think should be part of the Colossus Movie Guide for Aftersun? Leave your thoughts below and we’ll consider them for the guide.
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