After follows college freshman Tessa Young (Josephine Langford) as she meets and is swept into a whirlwind of lust over tattooed British bad boy Hardin Scott (Hero Fiennes Tiffin). The film is adapted from Anna Todd’s enormously popular After series, based on her Harry Styles fan-fiction. The series has racked up 1.5 billion views on Wattpad and sold 15 million print copies.
After masks the problematic dynamics of Tessa and Hardin’s relationship under a blanket of passion. They aren’t #relationshipgoals or #couplegoals, yet die hard fans of the fiction are obsessed with the pair.
Tessa and Hardin’s attraction to one another stems from the concept of “opposites attract.” This form of lust can be dangerous, as it’s idealized and can blind individuals to some obvious reasons they should not pursue a relationship with a potential partner. Many people are attracted to the “bad boy” in hopes of proving they can get the guy, play therapist, and mold them to their liking. Some simply love the extreme highs and lows of the relationship as if it’s a drug and they need their daily fix.
Hardin has a lot of emotional baggage due to his upbringing with his father. If you’ve read the fan-fiction, you’ll recognize that his fluctuating emotions are going to be psychological torture and exhausting for Tessa. The film didn’t include all of the arguments the pair had in the Wattpad and novels, including Hardin wanting Tessa to stay away from basically everyone in her life and only see him. He is often nasty and disrespectful towards her and admits that he’s “just an a**hole.”
When you’re young and inexperienced in love, Hardin’s behavior is easily dismissible, as it’s viewed as him being emotional or even romantic because he wants Tessa all for himself. But that’s not the truth. A lover should never attempt to dictate their partner’s life. That’s obsessive, manipulation, controlling, and mental abuse – and it isn’t cute.
Hardin displays his emotions by breaking glass and punching walls. In the novel, Tessa describes one instance where she thinks Hardin will slap her. This behavior is dangerous, and its magnitude is unpredictable. If you’re in a relationship and fear your lover will hit you, you need to end that relationship for your safety and sanity.
While writing After, Anna Todd told Refinery29 she was upset with how Hardin treated Tessa and didn’t want them together, “I was like, ‘He should just be alone forever and be miserable.’” Todd added, “I don’t know if I wanted them to end up together. I just wrote it, and they had to be.”
Does the pair have to live happily ever after? No, but since this is fiction, fan service is required. The problem is, people invest in these characters as if they’re real and start to seek a Hardin of their own. Therein lies the danger of someone assuming the turmoil in their relationship is normal – because Tessa and Hardin went through the same thing.
The one thing After gets right is that young love is complicated by naivety and driven by hormones. We can’t blame every bad decision on hormones, but they can contribute to illogical decisions that make you wonder what exactly you were thinking later.
Let’s not forget Tessa had a boyfriend named Noah. The writers made their relationship seem vanilla so fans could obsess over Tessa and Hardin getting together and dismiss the fact that Tessa cheated on Noah…TWICE. If things were reversed and Noah cheated on Tessa for a bad girl, would he be considered a jerk? If so, what does that make Tessa? Or did fans see Tessa leveling up so cheating on Noah wasn’t a big deal? This double standard is ideal for another discussion.
The sequel, After We Collided, will be released in 2020. If you haven’t read the fan-fiction, from the sound of the title, you know more drama is coming.