‘Aftersun’ Director Charlotte Wells: Filming ‘Under Pressure’ Scene Was ‘Completely Unbelievable and Crazy’

[Editor’s Note: The following story contains spoilers about “Aftersun.”]

Charlotte Wells is shining light on the iconically dark “Aftersun” final scene.

Single father Calum (Paul Mescal) violently dances into the afterlife while his daughter Sophie (Frankie Corio) tries to grapple with her tween past and adult present (Celia Rowlson Hall plays the older version of Sophie). David Bowie and Queen’s “Under Pressure” soundtracks the emotional sequence, which director Wells revealed was a total accident.

“‘Under Pressure,’ it’s so funny. I brought it into the edit of just having an idea of something to work with, something to give rhythm to the cut, with no conscious awareness of the lyrics and how straightforwardly they tied to the material,” Wells told IndieWire at the New York Film Critics Circle awards ceremony. “And maybe that is completely unbelievable and crazy, but it’s true.”

The Gotham Awards winner continued, “But maybe some subconscious part of my brain knew what was happening. We brought it in, and it seemed to work, but if our producers who saw the film told us it was the worst choice we’ve ever made, we probably would have nodded in agreement and never come back to it. So we’re lucky it works off the bat and people seem to respond to it.”

Those producers include Oscar winner Barry Jenkins and “Moonlight” producer Adele Romanski, as well as Amy Jackson and Mark Ceryak. Wells previously described the sequence as her “favorite part” of the film and told RogerEbert.com that “Under Pressure” was used almost “as a joke at first” with editor Blair McClendon before realizing that it lined up perfectly with each frame.

As the “Under Pressure” scene haunts audiences, Wells addressed the emotionality of the semi-autobiographical film as a whole.

“It’s very satisfying because it was executed just as it was in the script. It was always the culmination of the feeling that the whole film builds towards, so I am glad that it hits hard and it is ultimately an expression of grief and all of the complex feelings around grief,” Wells said. “I think that is miraculously what people are responding to.”

She continued of future projects, “I think that my work is always going to be personal in some ways. It’s easier to be more personal, to give more of yourself, if there is a veneer of fiction that is more obvious than here, where there is not a character that is so easy to draw a straight line between them and me. But it’s always going to be personal. I’m always going to be using film to express something of myself.

“This [‘Aftersun’] is probably as ‘actually completely about my life’ as it’s ever going to get,” Wells shared. “But you know, never say never.”

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