We grow up being oblivious to the humanness of those who raise us despite being found in the intimate convergence where they meet us. Some of them did not get to familiarise themselves with buoyancy before they were catapulted into the deep end of parenthood. And, it is easy for us to forget this, because our memories of them are always interspersed with our presence – there is no way of meeting them or more specifically who they were before us without us existing. And our very existence changed them forever.
We see this obvious fracture in the film Aftersun which shows us the relationship between a young father, Calum, and his daughter, Sophie, (who Calum got when he was twenty) as they vacation in Turkey during a summer in the nineties. Like Sophie, who we see as an adult watching the MiniDV footage of their trip, we only realise the vulnerability of our parents when we’re grown and we ourselves are in the pandemonium that is being an adult. In our maturity, we try to reconcile our fickle memory with the actual experiences that occurred.
We begin to realise that the people who took care of us had their own battles with depression and other quiet tragedies that we had no idea they were going through. In the film, we see Calum alone in the hotel room sobbing hysterically even though in public we see a completely different person – a very loving and cheerful father who is set on making his daughter happy. When we start to experience adulthood and being parents ourselves, we see this vivid conflict of who we are when interacting with others such as our children and who we are unobserved under all the emotional weight we carry.
The film sparks a vivid evocation on how sometimes our parents’ labour of love eclipses their ability to show up for themselves. In one scene, Calum and Sophie are on a float in the water and he lets her know that she can tell him anything that’s happened and that will happen in her life. Throughout our sometimes boisterous childhood our parents try to teach us things that they hope will equip us for the future. As seen in another scene where Calum tries to teach Sophie how to break free from someone’s hold on her wrists in case she is ever attacked. He reiterates that his instructions are important – which made me feel his fear of what would happen when he would not be able to shelter her. We grow up seeing our parents as our protectors. And as we grow older, we begin to see that sometimes no one is there to protect them and maybe never was.
A lot of people have speculated that Calum eventually dies of suicide from what the writer and director Charlotte Wells portrayed in the film, which I agree feels somewhat like an elegy. A fundamental reason that a lot of people with suicidal ideation fight to stay alive is because of the people around them whom they love. And the intensity of that emotional inertia is bound to be escalated when you have a child depending on you. Because even as you meander through that existential malaise, you want to ensure that your little one is cocooned in an idyllic world even if it’s for a short summer break in Turkey. And we can see that he is worried that Sofie is already drowning in the lethargy that inevitably comes with age when Sophie talks about having days when she comes home and feels tired and down and like she’s sinking.
The ephemeral nature of time is also a treacherous burden we don’t realise our parents carry. When Sophie asks Callum “When you were 11, what did you think you would be doing now?” he asks her to stop recording as he is visibly uneasy. Our parents were children like us once with exuberant dreams and aspirations that were likely sniffled out as time passed when they had to focus on new responsibilities like being caregivers to us.
As I ruminate about my adulthood and my own mental illnesses, I am learning to give my parents enough grace for present experiences and past memories. I am learning to use my “mind camera” to make new vibrant memories with them with a silent mutual understanding and reconciliation of both of our struggles. I am learning to appreciate the time I have with them now because time is not a thing you can curve backwards. In one scene, Sophie says “I think it’s nice that we share the same sky” and explains that no matter the distance between them when they are apart, they’re always under the same sky and metaphorically, I see my parents under the same “sky” of the turmoil of adulthood trying to balance the several fragmented facets and dimensions of life despite the inescapable distance between us.