In this segment of our Colossus Movie Guide for Aftersun, we delve into the significance of the film’s title.
- 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
Why is the movie called Aftersun?
The title of the film derives from the actual product of aftersun lotion, which is applied to one’s body after exposure to the sun. You either use aftersun lotion in an attempt to prevent sunburns or to soothe the skin after you’ve already been burned. Calum and Sophie apply lotion to one another in several scenes, as they spend each day of their vacation in the sun.
Obviously, the meaning of the title Aftersun extends beyond the literal. It becomes symbolic of Sophie’s memory (the film’s strongest theme, as we discussed in both the Themes and Meaning and Ending Explained sections), as the entire film is her recollection of the final moments she spent with her father. The English prefix “post-” means “after,” signaling that the entire film is about Sophie on the other side of something traumatic. She is now a grown adult—the same age as her father when he died, in fact—which causes her to reflect on her final moments with her father. So the title of the film inherently refers to this reflection.
But there’s more to explore with the word “after.” The Old English “æftan” means “from behind, behind, farthest back.” It’s a superlative of the Old English words “æf, af, of,” aka “away, away from, off.” This distance perfectly captures an older Sophie’s state, as each succeeding day places her farther and farther away from Calum. Despite her attempts to revisit her past through memory, she will never be able to fully comprehend what her father struggled with during that vacation, what led to his untimely death.
Now we can blend the literal with the symbolic. Aftersun lotion can only be applied after exposure to the sun. And at that point, you may already be burned, so there’s nothing to do about it. Symbolically, this lines up with older Sophie’s attempt to heal emotional wounds. In a sense, she has already been “burned” by her father’s death, which left a stinging sensation on Sophie that hasn’t healed in years. Revisiting her memories, aka trying to assign meaning to her father’s suicide, is her way of applying lotion. But she’s already been exposed to the sun—the burn has already taken hold. The lotion can only treat physical wounds. But the emotional wounds run much deeper.
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