The Aftermath (2018) 

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

Based on the novel of the same name, The Aftermath is a provocative exploration of regret, loss, guilt, and lust.

When Rachel Morgan (Keira Knightley) arrives in Germany still reeling from the death of their son in the Blitz, she does not expect to share her home with the original occupant. Her workaholic husband Lewis (Jason Clarke) assures her that it’s all right, there’s no need to show discourtesy to Stephen Lubert (Alexander Skarsgård ). But everywhere she looks, Rachel sees reminders of her loss, of the war they fought against this country. Shadowed outlines where portraits of Hitler used to hang. Beautiful furniture that does not belong to her. A priceless piano her son would have loved to play on.

She attempts to rekindle her romance with her husband, but his detachment while he also grapples with their son’s death leaves a gap between them. A space in her heart and body that, if she’s not careful, her German host may fill…

Though at its heart the tale of a torrid love affair, the film also grapples with more serious issues, such as the devastation in Germany after the war. It reminds us that British bombers leveled cities, left parents childless, and children parentless. It shows us a country of starving, desperate people, and those who cannot find it in their hearts to forgive them the sins of the Nazis. The camera peers through rubble, and finds bodies entwined beneath broken stone. It shows us the hardship faced by parents who lose their child. The guilt and remorse of those unable to stop a loss after it happens. And now these conflicted, turbulent emotions can drive people into one another’s arms, to experience a “need” both of them need filled.

It’s lust. And to explain it any other way makes no sense. The lust of a lonely, desperate woman whose husband seems out of reach, and a man who has lost everything from his wife, to his relationship with his daughter, to the home he lives in, which now “belongs” to someone else, an occupier. It’s neither a cautionary tale (though you could call it “how neglect leads to broken bonds”) nor complicit in its adultery, but leaves the audience with mixed emotions – surprise, disappointment, even relief. It features beautiful performances, costumes, hairstyles, and the glamour of post-war life. The emotions feel raw and real. The music is haunting. But it’s hard to root for the gasping, clutching lust at its core. It’s simply less meaningful than the things around it.

Sexual Content:
Two sex scenes (movement, nudity), one of them long and tender; other inferences of preparing for, or post-sex; a man talks about wanting to see his wife out of her dress; a couple undress together and clutch at each other. Nude paintings hang around the house. A soldier says a couple of bodies wanted one last bit of pleasure during the bombings.
 
Language:
One f-word, one use of “bastard,” some use of “bloody,” and abuse of God’s name, Jesus’ name is abused twice.
 
Violence:
Bodies are found in the rubble (bloodied, mummified skeletons). A man is shot through the head; another is shot through the neck and bleeds to death; a person drowns; a riot turns bloody.

Other:
Smoking and drinking.