TW: Domestic Abuse, Physical Abuse, Sex, Emotional Abuse
When I first heard the news that Anna Todd’s Wattpad fanfiction based on Harry Styles would be depicted on the big screen, the nostalgia set in. I remember my middle school days flipping through Wattpad, jamming out to One Direction, and overall living up the very cliche 13-year-old girl’s life. So, when my friend and I saw that After was playing in theatres, we immediately booked our tickets, grabbed a big bucket of buttery popcorn, and began to reminisce on our middle school lives.
I can vividly remember being the only thirteen-year-old girl in my biology class that never had “the talk” or even knew what sex was. One day my friend showed me the fanfiction After featuring my major man-crush, Harry Styles, and that was my first impression of sex. My first impression of sex was an emotionally and physically abusive relationship, but of course, since it was Harry Styles it was oh so endearing!
If you saw the first movie, you can probably agree that while the movie was beyond cringey, it wasn’t very problematic. It featured the typical “Riverdale-esque” teenage drama with scenes of house parties, copious amounts of alcohol, and some raunchy make out sessions, but nothing out-of-the-ordinary from a drama film. But then we get to the second film in the series, After We Collided.
Within the first twenty minutes of the film, viewers see Hardin Scott (Hero Fiennes Tiffin) chase after a drunken Tessa (Josephine Langford) by banging on her hotel room door when she is spotted with a male co-worker, Trevor (Dylan Sprouse). So, right off the bat, the romantic interest is depicted to be possessive and toxic…or is he depicted to be persistent and protective? The night ends with Tessa and Hardin sharing intimacy in her hotel room, then the next morning the two have a screaming match in the hallway that ends in throwing objects and cursing loudly. There are several other instances of physical and emotional abuse within the film, but not to worry because there are a few steamy sex scenes sprinkled in to keep the audience under the spell of Hardin’s charming British accent.
I don’t take any problem with a movie or TV show depicting a problematic relationship, but why are we making movies with a plot surrounding a toxic relationship and disguising it to be sexy, romantic, and aligned by “fate” as Hardin put it.
The funny thing about this book is you’d think it was written by a man. In the first movie, Tessa Young is described to be a book-loving, studious good girl that is holding on to her purity. She is mocked by her roommate, peers, and even Hardin for being a virgin and preferring her studies over partying. So, in short, Tessa’s character is written to be “not like other girls” solely for the plot of Hardin, the bad boy, desiring her instead of his female peers that are described as party girls and even referred to as “whores” in the movies.
While this movie series seems to be romanticizing this situation, it can be a reality for many college women. More often than not, a young woman in college will struggle with her sexuality and might even be struck by love enough to think a toxic relationship is a loving one.
In After We Collided, Hardin deals with PTSD, alcoholism, and anger issues. Over an office lunch, Tessa confides in her co-worker, Trevor, and explains how Hardin is troubled by addiction and wants to fix him for the sake of his happiness and the future of their relationship. Trevor warns Tessa that addiction is a disease, one of which progress is not linear, and often ends relationships badly. Tessa insists that he is wrong, but there is little to no evidence for Tessa to make such a confident statement.
Tessa does not have a single healthy relationship in her life, not even her mother is on good terms with her. Tessa doesn’t have any friends and “coincidentally” no female friends at all. Even Trevor who is showcased as the “nice guy” lets his romantic feelings toward her get in the way of his better judgment.
Overall, After and After We Collided are two films that continue to perpetuate the idea that a man being possessive, borderline stalker, and manipulative is somehow sexy when a sexy man is doing it. Take a look at Joe Goldberg from the Netflix series You. Men like Hardin Scott later become Joe Goldbergs. We have to start doing better as a society and stop making films that further oppress women into thinking that when a man acts like Hardin it means he loves her.