Aftersun Movie Ending Explained: The Meaning of Calum's Final Decision

By Tom Drew Posted:
Paul Mescal as Calum in Aftersun, Frankie Corio as Sophie

Aftersun's ending settles on a devastating conclusion for Calum and Sophie, with a deeper meaning behind their bittersweet vacation to Turkey.

The critically acclaimed coming-of-age drama from director Charlotte Wells chronicles Paul Mescal as Calum and Frankie Corio as Sophie on a family holiday, exploring themes of mental and reflection on what could have been.

While initially presented as a fun trip between father and daughter, the movie hits viewers with an emotional gut punch as it unravels what is going on with Calum.

Aftersun Ending Explained: Did Calum Have Depression?

Paul Mescal as Calum in Aftersun

Amongst the moments of pure joy between Sophie and her dad living it up in the Turkish heat, Aftersun interjects more contemplative scenes focused on Calum's struggles with his mental state. 

Hints are scattered throughout the movie's narrative. One instance involves Calum's conversation with the diving instructor where he admits that he cannot see himself at 40, ominously hinting that he is unable to imagine his life for much longer.

Other moments see Sophie questioning how her father thought his life would end up when he was younger. She also signs Calum up for karaoke behind his back. Both of these lead to incredibly distressed reactions from him.

While never outright stated, it is heavily implied that Calum is experiencing some kind of mental illness, likely to be depression. This is further conveyed through his attempts at working through this via self-help books and Tai Chi.

In addition, when Sophie describes having a feeling akin to that of being depressed, Calum spits his toothpaste on the bathroom mirror, reflecting his fear that she may be developing the same mental health issues that he is facing.

Paul Mescal as Calum in Aftersun

The contributing factors to Calum's depression are also subtly implied through various conversations. The discussion between father and daughter about Calum's aspirations as a child does suggest that he has some level of regret in having Sophie at such a young age, something he would never want to admit to his daughter.

This also likely ties into his separation from Sophie's mother, made all the more heartbreaking by the fact that they still cap off their phone calls with "love you."

Financial problems also seem to weigh on the mind of Mescal's character, suggested through the cafe idea that was never fulfilled and the frustration over Sophie losing her expensive swimming goggles.

Calum's death may have not been shown on screen, but his reckless behavior in walking in front of a bus, a seeming suicide attempt when he throws himself into the ocean, another instance where he stands precariously on top of a railing, and an adult Sophie's reckoning with grief and loss convey how he, unfortunately, took his own life.

The Meaning Behind Aftersun: What Sophie's Rave Scene Represents

Celia Rowlson-Hall as adult Sophie in Aftersun

Aftersun's ending culminates in a grown-up Sophie, played by Celia Rowlson-Hall, with a wife and child, watching back her holiday through her and her dad's home videos.

One of the major themes of Aftersun is memory, which is exemplified the most through this framing of watching the events of the movie back through a camera. Much like our own memories, the movie is fragmented and often shows events out of order or interspersed between other moments.

Sophie watching back the videos symbolizes her desire to understand the circumstances that led to her dad's death by seeking an objective view of what the two of them experienced.

Her view of her holiday was clouded by childhood innocence, unable to see the pain that was underlying within her father. By watching back, she at least has a chance to gain a more black-and-white grasp on Calum's feelings and reckon with his passing.

Much of this introspection is shown through the imagery of the rave. Scenes depict Paul Mescal's Calum wildly dancing among a sea of people as strobe lights intermittently light his face. These moments culminate in Sophie eventually making her way into the rave and embracing her father, intercut with the memory of dancing with her dad to Queen's "Under Pressure."

Paul Mescal as Calum in Aftersun

The meaning behind the rave has led to many different interpretations. One theory posits that the scene is a reflection of the inner turmoil within Calum's head, a jostling sea of bodies that seems impossible to discern or escape from.

Calum leaving the airport terminal and walking through doors that lead to the rave could be an indication that he is once again returning to that depressive mindset and is foreshadowing the tragic decision that he will make.

Another explanation ties into Sophie's appearance in the rave, being reflective of her newfound understanding of where her father's head was at and conflating this with her last memories with him. Her screaming inside the rave could also suggest a darker reading of Sophie's feelings towards her father, her frustrations over her father's death entangled with the positive memories that she has with him.

Sophie being in the rave could also hint at another more tragic end for her character, implying that she is similarly dealing with the same issues as her father. Corio's character did indicate early on in the movie that she was going through feelings that her father identified with, so this may have followed her into adulthood.

Regardless of the meaning behind the rave scenes, one thing is crystal clear by Aftersun's ending: Calum truly loved Sophie. One scene sees Calum eyeing up a rug but is unable to afford its £850 price tag. He comes back later though and ends up buying it. But why is that? 

We see that the adult Sophie now has the carpet adorned on her wall. This gesture shows how Calum knew that he was not going to need money anymore, so used the rest of his earnings to at least leave Sophie with a gift to remember him by.

Aftersun is available to buy and rent on digital.

- About The Author: Tom Drew
Tom Drew is the Executive Editor at The Direct. Tom writes for The Direct's Marvel, Star Wars, and DC branches while specializing in all things movies, from blockbuster to indie darlings.