Aftersun ending explained: Breaking down that ambiguous — and heartbreaking — final scene

Charlotte Wells' emotional film ends on a haunting note.
Aftersun - Paul Mescal
Aftersun - Paul Mescal /

Breaking out the wine and looking for something sad to watch this weekend? No judgments; I love sad movies! If you're on the same vibe as me and want a film that'll leave a lasting impact on you, Netflix has the perfect choice. Charlotte Wells' feature directorial debut Aftersun is now streaming, and you might want to get the tissues ready for this one.

The 2022 film distributed by A24 in the United States was an indie favorite after debuting at the Cannes Film Festival, where Wells was nominated for the Caméra d'Or. Star Paul Mescal received an Academy Award nomination for his leading role, and Wells won multiple BAFTA Awards for her work behind the camera. If you missed Aftersun two years ago, it's not too late to check it out.

WARNING: There are major spoilers for Aftersun below.

Now, once you do watch Aftersun, you might have questions about the film's ending. I vividly remember leaving the theater after watching this one and Googling people's interpretations of the ending as I cried on the subway on the way home. Yes, I'm being serious. Aftersun has one of the best movie endings of the past decade, though you might need to sit with it for a while to fully process. Let's back up a bit and explain what the movie's even about.

Paul Mescal as Calum and Frankie Corio as Sophie in Charlotte Wells' film Aftersun, sitting on the couch together on holiday.
Aftersun /

Aftersun follows a 30-year-old single father named Calum who, to celebrate his upcoming birthday, takes his 11-year-old daughter Sophie on holiday to Turkey. While staying at a resort, the pair spend time swimming, lounging, and recording their trip on a camera. Though on paper the vacation seems like a normal, mundane family trip, Calum delivers troubling signs throughout the film that suggest he's suffering from mental health issues.

The film is incredibly subtle, so if you aren't fully paying attention, you'll miss what's so special about it. On the final night of their holiday, Calum and Sophie dance together at the resort to the song "Under Pressure" by Queen and David Bowie, a song that forever lives in Sophie's memories. We then cut to an intriguing sequence: With the same song playing, we see a woman at some type of rave, watching Calum continue to dance along. She looks concerned as she watches him, and we then cut back to Sophie at the resort. The resort and rave scenes are intertwined, suggesting the woman we see is Sophie years later in her adulthood.

This is likely the last time Sophie sees Calum

The adult Sophie seems to yell at Calum at the rave, clearly upset at him. She seemingly tries to reach out to touch him or even hug him, but he's just out of her grasp. Suddenly, it's only the two of them at the rave, and as the lights flash, we see the two embrace. We then see the two embrace at the resort as Calum spins Sophie around. As the song comes to a close, the adult Sophie switches back and forth from her childhood self, as Calum disappears. This signals a loss of innocence for Sophie as she loses her dad.

The final minutes of Aftersun show us footage from their camera as they part ways at the airport, saying their "goodbye"s and "I love you"s. So who's watching the footage? It's the adult version of Sophie, watching on the couch of her home. From a monitor, we hear a baby crying. The final shot of the movie is Calum standing in the airport, turning off the camera after saying goodbye to Sophie. He walks through doors at the end of the hallway, and as they open, we see flashes of light, suggesting he's walking into the rave. What does the rave symbolize? Death, perhaps. Or maybe it's Sophie's memories.

Paul Mescal as Calum and Frankie Corio as Sophie in Charlotte Wells' film Aftersun, embracing in one of the final scenes.
Aftersun /

This is how the movie ends, leaving us with little confirmation of what happens but a lot to theorize over. Aftersun suggests that Calum dies, likely by suicide, after his holiday with Sophie. When we see her as an adult, she's watching the footage from their vacation, either trying to remember her dad or trying to figure out what could've happened. As for the rave sequence, that could totally be one of Sophie's dreams, or it could even be a real-life moment from a time she went to a club and was triggered by the song "Under Pressure."

The Aftersun ending leaves a lasting impact

In whatever way you interpret the rave sequence, it's definitely up to you. Wells has discussed how important it is to not over-explain the film, particularly its ending, telling The Hollywood Reporter: “I will never deny somebody’s experience of the film. I think the loss at the end resonates just as deeply for everyone, regardless of how you’re filling in the gaps in the story.” The director explained that while the ending is ambiguous for the viewer, she had to know "all the answers" in order to make the movie.

"I will say that some people’s responses have been almost exactly aligned with my intentions," Wells shared.

What makes Aftersun so powerful is the feeling you get after finishing the final scene. The realization that you've been watching Sophie's memories the whole time, paired with the fact that the slice-of-life moments all lead to such tragedy, stays with you for a while. At least, it did for me. It's not surprising that the film received highly emotional responses when it premiered in 2022, and new fans watching it on Netflix will likely have the same experience.

Watch Aftersun on Netflix.

21 best Netflix movies to watch right now . 21 best Netflix movies to watch right now . light. Next