When I first stumbled upon the movie After, based on author Anna Todd’s book series of the same name, I really did not think much of it.
Perhaps it was because I was bored during my summer office job, or perhaps it was my shameful captivation with the main characters’ visuals, but I decided to give the movie a try on a lazy weekend.
Boy oh boy, was it a wild ride. Not only was the plotline insanely predictable, but it was laced with toxic examples of what a relationship should never be. Complete with lies, deceit, and manipulation, with just a hint of gaslighting, nothing about the movie was enlightening in terms of life lessons and romance. But you know what? It got me hooked.
Embarrassing, I know.
At first, I felt almost ashamed to have been so enthralled with the film, but shortly afterward, I discovered that it was actually some sort of global phenomenon. Moreover, it was a global phenomenon based on a fanfiction series from flaming Wattpad.
Growing up addicted to reading novels of all kinds, I had my fair share of literary exposure to cheesy young adult (YA) romance. Boy meets girl. Boy breaks girl’s heart. Boy and girl get back together and subsequently learn some supposed grandiose lesson at the ripe age of 16.
After is really no different. In fact, I’d say that the After series is arguably worse. Whereas most YA clichés revolve around unrealistic narratives at times, the After series documents a rather emotionally twisted story.
If you were to scour the internet for reviews on the books and the film itself, some people have chalked the story up to be a downright example of emotional abuse, anti-feminist propaganda, and a teenage 50 Shades of Grey.
I won’t deny these ruthless allegations against the franchise. The main characters have extremely questionable definitions of love. The entire series follows an exhaustingly repetitive narration of the couple’s toxic relationship.
Time after time, Tessa, the main character, goes after Hardin despite the emotional trauma that he unintentionally — supposedly — inflicts upon her. I mean, to the average impressionable teenager, I would definitely hesitate in recommending this book.
Nonetheless, I tore through the movie twice and read every single book via free PDFs on the internet. Even more embarrassingly, they didn’t send off alarm bells for me personally. I truly found myself enjoying the ride.
At the end of the day, I understand where people are coming from with their critiques. I don’t think that the books are particularly well written whatsoever, nor was the acting in the movie spectacular. It was really nothing but a guilty pleasure on a summer day.
I’m not trying to learn some huge life lesson, nor am I expecting the series to shape my perception of love. If I were to really try to defend the series in some hail-Mary manner, I’d say that, honestly, the books do say something about being in love when you’re young and when it’s your first time being in love.
Of course, the relationships were toxic, and, of course, they weren’t good examples of a healthy relationship, but how many of us can say that our first romances were perfect? So, my advice to anyone who decides to indulge: don’t take it seriously; just enjoy it at face value.
There’s absolutely no need to dissect the literary nuances and sociopolitical messages on feminism within After. Just let it be a chance for you to remember a past love you had. Let it be a chance to remember a time when you were naïve, when you were newly in love, and when you felt foolishly invincible.