Words: Tara Davies
From a series of Harry Styles fanfiction to the big screen, the After films are a throwback for any OG One Direction fan. I read the Wattpad story at 13, when Anna Todd first started writing it. Every 1D fangirl was raving about it on Twitter and Instagram, making me feel like I was a part of a community.
Todd gained billions of reads for a story, now looking back, was incredibly bland and glamorised toxic relationships. Whilst I feel somewhat incredibly proud of Anna Todd for being able to take her creation to the big screen, I’m also concerned for any pre-teen stumbling across the chick-flick on Netflix. The storyline itself encourages girls to believe boys are mean to them because they fancy them and pits women against each other for the love of a narcissistic man.
Tessa Young is an 18-year-old girl going off to university for the first time. She’s a female protagonist trope: always has good grades, hard-working, beautiful but doesn’t know it and has her life planned out. A trope I am sick to death of –– tell me how every female protagonist has the same personality. Oh and of course her life changes when she meets Harry Styles, I mean, Hardin Scott. He’s covered in tattoos, he’s rebellious, he’s tall, dark and handsome. He’s what many would call a ‘bad boy’. Hardin has little to no resemblance to our favourite curly-haired and kind-mannered ex-boybander.
Most of the problems that lie with After boil down to the fact Anna Todd, when she was writing the fanfiction, never checked through her work and never had any sort of plan for the story itself. This clumsiness is extremely evident in the film. Not a lot of things add up and there are too many throwaway characters (most likely because Todd had to create 5 different characters for each 1D boy). Poor plot development and unpolished writing is something rife in fanfictions and each story usually has the same stereotypical arcs. So, by making After into a film series, thousands of fanfictions have also kind of been made into movies.
Fanfiction fictionalises real people. Funnily enough, it’s something a lot of people seem to forget. After was written at a time where Harry was consistently painted as a player, a bad boy and a womanizer in the media. There’s no doubt in my mind Harry has been forced to develop the thickest skin over his time in the public eye and has probably distanced himself from reading up on certain things –– After being one of these.
When you step into Styles’ shoes and really think about After, it’s incredibly unsettling. There’s no arguing Hardin is an awful, mentally abusive person and this fictionalised personality is forever attached to Harry in some way, shape or form. For those who aren’t aware of After’s origins, all it takes is one quick Google to make that connection.
Okay, so the films have renamed Harry Styles to Hardin Scott. Changes have been made to differentiate Hardin from Harry, i.e Hardin’s birthday (on fandom.com) is 5th February rather than the 1st. But these differences have been implemented to most likely avoid legal issues rather than to spare anyone’s feelings. It’s heartbreaking to think Styles probably thought he’d got over the hurdle of smutty fanfiction painting him in a bad light for After to then be made into movies. Todd has consistently spoken out about her love and adoration for Styles. How she would never do anything intentionally to hurt him but this, like I’ve already emphasised, doesn’t break the link.
Jumping straight into the movie: I don’t know about you, but I despised Hardin from our very first encounter. The arrogance he carries is unbelievable and I’m supposed to be fawning over him? Tessa and Hardin meet in her dorm room which she shares with his friend Steph. Tessa has just returned to the dorm after showering and is about to change. Hardin is lying on Steph’s bed not saying a word until Tessa notices him. Imagine you’re Tessa in this instance. A random bloke is in your room, silent and content whilst you’re stripping in front of him and you don’t even realise? It’s downright predatory. And the “Don’t flatter yourself,” comment he throws out makes me want to throw a punch. It makes me sick to my stomach yet Tessa is able to get over the encounter and later jump into bed with Hardin.
Soon after Steph drags Tessa along to a college party. We meet Molly, who despite being a horrific human being, is a thousand times more entertaining than Tessa. This introduction sets the pair up to be enemies. No good girl meets bad boy story is complete without the good girl being pitted up against the boy’s ex-lover.
I understand the After was written 2013, a time where these types of stories were rife. But we’re now in 2021. Movies are emerging which abandon any nod to female characters being internally misogynistic. Think about how enthralling it would’ve been if Molly and Tessa ended up uniting against Hardin? They were both clearly cheated by him and his “I don’t date” policy. The power this pair would have over Hardin and his God complex. Not only have we been robbed of this iconic duo, but it’s also incredibly disappointing to continuously see these misogynistic plots which will undoubtedly negatively influence young girls the same way the fanfic influenced me at 13.
That brings me on to dissect Molly. The motive behind every single one of her actions is that Hardin never wanted to be her boyfriend. Her unpleasant actions and comments allow the story to move on i.e daring Hardin to kiss Tessa, which then becomes the bet that later gets exposed by Molly. You learn to quickly dislike Molly which somehow makes her still more likeable than Tessa. I feel absolutely nothing for Tessa. I don’t ever feel happy for her or sad for her. Despite Molly’s personality being based on her bitterness, at least she’s got one personality trait.
The bet is an insanely predictable storyline and considering the poor messages it sends out, it’s one that needs to be abandoned. Tessa and Hardin end up together, squatting in a flat Hardin’s supposed to only be watering the plants in. They’re pretending they have a perfect picket fence life… that is until we learn about Hardin betting his friends he could get Tessa to fall in love with him and then he would drop her.
What I find most offensive about the debacle is the fact Tessa ends up taking him back. The whole ‘at first it was a joke but I actually love you now’ makes me sick to my stomach. Yet another thing about After which perpetuates the age-old rumour boys are mean because they like you. Tessa allows herself to be humiliated and laughed at by not just Hardin but the entire friend group. It communicates to young girls manipulation is just one of the ups and downs of a relationship. Hardin went into his relationship with Tessa with the mindset to hurt her and I don’t care how much his feelings changed, he still wanted to be a nasty human being. To any 13-year-old stumbling across my little ramble: know your worth! Don’t take back any man, or any friend for that matter, who’s gone out of their way to degrade you.
Talking about manipulative men, I absolutely loathe Noah. Like Hardin, he’s got a power complex but Noah inflates it by buddying up to Tessa’s mum Carol. First of all, Carol and Noah are the best of friends and not in a cute way. In the way, if the couple has an argument Noah can’t wait to tell Tessa’s mum about her. We’ve all had that friend who loves to turn people against you, which is unbearable enough, but imagine that friend is your (ex) boyfriend? Noah literally trips over his feet to get Tessa in trouble at any given point. One example of this is when Tessa has an affair with Hardin, Noah runs to tell Carol and Tessa gets scolded. Then in After We Collided, Tessa goes back home and promptly leaves after learning Carol and Noah have some sort of plan to keep her away from her father.
Tessa’s an adult. She’s 18. Nobody can keep her from seeing anybody, she can make her own decisions but everybody treats her like a bird with a broken wing. Tessa is insanely judgemental but considering how everyone babies her, I don’t blame the girl. Carol controls every aspect of her life, down to the boys she dates. Noah, well, you already know my feelings for Noah. The college friendship group talked down to her because she’s, shall we say, less experienced in life in comparison to them. Finally, it’s Hardin who makes me the most uncomfortable when he points out Tessa’s innocence.
The upholding and emphasising of a woman’s virginity in popular culture sends me absolutely round the bend. Every time a male character says “Do you touch yourself down there,” I lose a brain cell. I blame the patriarchy for the taboo around female pleasure and emphasis on male pleasure, resulting in this weird fetish around women masturbating. Every sex scene of both movies is completely centred around Tessa’s ‘innocence’ which is so incredibly boring. Hardin gets off on the fact Tessa is inexperienced when it comes to sex. He treats her like a plaything which is the biggest red flag. When we first met Hardin at the beginning of the film he’s displaying predatory behaviour, so what did any of us expect?
Tessa’s taste in men is rather disappointing, to say the least. I think Todd possibly tried to achieve a plotline: Tessa binning off her boring boyfriend, then having fun and meeting a wild boy at university… but we just didn’t get that. Instead, we were blessed with toxic relationships between lovers, friends and family. However, again, what can you expect from a 2013 fanfic. Like I said at the beginning After was a part of my life in my early teens. It provided me with a little community likened to a book club, but there’s no way I can honestly say anything positive about the story itself.
After isn’t something I should’ve read so young and nor is it a film series that should be watched by girls in their pre/early teens. It encourages internal misogyny, aiding the patriarchy and promotes having a bad taste in men –– three things I hate.
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