Major SPOILERS ahead for the After book and movie
The After movie makes major changes to the story of Tessa Young & Hardin Scott from the original book by Anna Todd, but it's ultimately for the best. After originally started out as fanfiction written about One Direction band member Harry Styles and published by Todd on Wattpad. Her work amassed so many views, Simon & Schuster signed Todd to a publishing deal and released After as its own standalone story in 2014, followed by three sequels and a prequel. Now, director Jenny Gage (All the Panic) and writer Susan McMartin (Mom) bring After to the big screen in the 2019 theatrical adaptation.
Through the adaptation process, changes are always made in order to condense the story of a full novel into a two-hour movie. In the case of After, the movie keeps many of the most important scenes from the book in order to develop the romantic storyline of Tessa Young (Josephine Langford) and Hardin Scott (Hero Fiennes-Tiffin). There's the scene at the lake, where Hardin offers Tessa a peak behind his typically guarded nature, and Tessa dealing with the aftermath of Hardin drunkenly smashing up his father's house. The movie also includes the scene of Hardin's father's wedding, where Tessa learns about his family's troubled past. After even adapts, albeit loosely, the storyline of Hardin and Tessa moving in together. But After also makes a number of changes to the character of Hardin and the ending of the story - and, ultimately, it makes the movie much better than the book.
The After book has been criticized for its portrayal of Hardin and Tessa's relationship, with the main critique being that Hardin is incredibly manipulative and emotionally abusive of Tessa. He attempts to control all aspects of her life, getting her an internship off campus, coming in-between Tessa and her high school boyfriend, all while treating her cruelly. In the book, Hardin convincing Tessa to move in with him is more clearly a sign of his manipulation and an attempt to keep Tessa away from his friends. It all comes to a head at the very end, when it's revealed Hardin's friends dared him to take Tessa's virginity, and she learns that their entire relationship was built on a lie. Then the book ends on a cliffhanger with their relationship in ruins and Tessa devastated by Hardin's betrayal. It's in the movie's ending that the biggest changes are made to After, and where it improves upon the book.
After the movie works a great deal to remove the abusive nature of Hardin's behavior and treatment of Tessa; he's less cruel than in the book and more respectful of her boundaries. Early on, when he asks her out and she says no, he takes that no at face value. Though she changes her mind almost immediately, it's her decision. The movie gives Tessa more agency in general, which works to balance out the dynamic of her relationship with Hardin. And although Tessa becomes consumed by Hardin, it's all by her own choosing, rather than as a manipulation of Hardin. But After doesn't shy away from the third act reveal that Hardin built his relationship with Tessa on a lie. Instead of being dared to take her virginity, though, it's revealed he told his friends that he'd make Tessa fall in love with him and he'd just turn off his feelings for her. This declaration is captured on video and shared with Tessa toward the end of the movie.
Rather than end on this cliffhanger, though, the After film adaptation sees Tessa deal with the devastation that results from the revelation. She repairs her relationships with her mother and her high school ex-boyfriend, who's also her best friend. She moves back into her old room. She also proactively works to make her life better, changing her major to be something she enjoys rather than something practical, and getting an internship on her own. The movie ending also holds Hardin accountable for his actions. What he did to Tessa isn't OK, and the movie never frames his actions as simply a consequence of falling in love, which in the book it arguably does. Rather, in the movie it's a hard lesson that Tessa learns about putting her trust and love in someone she doesn't fully know yet. And, though Hardin attempts to win Tessa back, the movie ends on a cliffhanger of a different kind, leaving it open ended about whether Tessa will choose to ultimately forgive him.
With this ending, After takes a nuanced approach to where their relationship stands and what comes next following the revelation about Hardin's original intentions. It's much more honest and falls in line with the other changes made to the characters for the film and their relationship. Hardin is already less cruel and abusive while Tessa is more independent and outspoken, so it makes sense for him to try to make amends and it makes sense for her to consider forgiving him. But it leaves the actual ending ambiguous. Fans of the After book may not appreciate the changes made to the movie adaptation, since it doesn't give Hardin and Tessa a happily ever after. After isn't a typical romance movie because it ends so ambiguously, but the ending Gage and McMartin eventually decided on is much more realistic and, arguably, a more healthy lesson to impart on After's main demographic: preteen and teen girls.
Whereas the After book has some questionable themes insofar as its portrayal of a healthy, loving relationship, the movie works to rectify the more problematic elements of the novel. In fact, Hardin and Tessa's relationship in the book should not be idealized, as it is incredibly unhealthy. But the After movie changes their characters and relationship enough so that their dynamic is much healthier. Ultimately, it makes the romantic storyline of After much more enjoyable, all while depicting a romantic relationship that isn't outright harmful to viewers. Because of these changes, rather than in spite of them, After the movie is a stronger story and conclusively better than the book on which it's based
- After (2019) release date: Apr 12, 2019