AFTER EVERYTHING. The conclusion of bizzare series
After is a peculiar series that crept onto cinema screens in the pre-COVID era and was already, from the outset, an archaic memory of the popularity of young adult book-to-film adaptations. There was nothing fresh in this entire cycle because it was essentially the Wattpad fantasies of a young writer, Anna Todd (she was just 24 when she published the first volume), projected onto Harry Styles. Except, she couldn’t use the real singer, so she created her own image of him in the form of Hardin Scott, and she inserted herself into the paper-thin body of Tessa Young. And so, these two danced back and forth through several book installments and movies, finally reaching the conclusion after five years of serialized adaptations. However, this conclusion is a real curiosity, even within this series, and it’s truly remarkable.
The latest and supposedly ultimate film in this epic love story completely relegates Tessa to the sidelines – she becomes practically a fleeting text message in Hardin’s life until the finale. Because here, he is unquestionably the main character. In the previous installment, he once again pushed away his beloved because it turned out he had written a book about their relationship behind her back, and he couldn’t understand why she was so hurt when their private affairs were about to become fodder for readers. Many readers, I should add, because our most handsome genius, Mr. Scott, had already sold the book to the publisher and was halfway to an author event before saying anything to her. The new installment begins two years after the events of the fourth book/movie when the little prince of literature is suffering in solitude because Tessa sensibly told him to take a hike and cut off contact. And so, for almost an hour and a half, the viewer follows this, perhaps the biggest child of cinema, who decides to make use of his privileges and heads to Lisbon to cure his writer’s block (because why not, at least we can enjoy some pretty scenery – that’s one of the perks, I warn you), because Tessa is Tessa, but one must continue to build a career. There, he attempts to apologize to the girl in various ways, the girl whose life he destroyed during their college days by sharing an intimate video – there was no mention of her in the previous films, but drama must be injected, even if the inclusion of the issue of private life in a romance with real sexual violence is absolutely disgusting and seems to have come out of nowhere.
And so, Hardin strolls around Lisbon, seeking forgiveness in the ways only a banana-wielding kid can. Of course, even after finally getting punched in the face, he still comes out on top. Because he’s the author’s ideal construct, a martyr without any real problems – a character who doesn’t undergo any development over the course of five films. It’s incredible how empty this character is – starting as an aggressive, toxic brat and ending in the same way, only with the woman he fancies. That’s it. There’s no well-defined reason for Tessa to make her life a mess by sticking with Hardin, and in the final ten minutes of the film, she becomes a mere finish line. All Scott has to do is exist, and attached to his ugly character is a magnet that forgives all his sins. There’s no room for any self-reflection, an attempt to offer him therapy, or a clear reaction from those close to him (who practically get beaten up every moment they’re around him). Hardin simply can’t stop winning.
Everything about him, exaggerated beyond belief, looks like a parody of human problems. Take his utterly cartoonish alcoholism, present from the very first installment. The character experiences no side effects, always looks cool, claims he’s managing it – because he’s not drinking whiskey anymore, just having two glasses of wine. He’s got it under control. No, alcoholism is not cool. It shouldn’t be portrayed this way, especially since young people might trivialize this real, devastating issue because, after all, Hardin may shout at times, get into fights, but he always says good morning, and he sensually nibbles on someone’s ear in bed.
Moreover, the most interesting part of the entire film, maybe even the whole series, is Mimi Keene, known from Sex Education, in the role of Natalie, Hardin’s past victim. Her story could easily carry the entire plot if we transformed the beautiful British thug into a demon lurking in the past. Unfortunately, she’s in the foreground here, like a knight on a white horse, actively sapping the protagonist’s energy. In fact, every character has a semblance of a life here as long as Scott isn’t around – his parents, half-brother, or even Tessa herself. I would willingly accept a series about dealing with such a destructive force, perhaps attempts to help him, but throughout all the installments, Hardin remains romanticized, ultimately becoming the lord and master of this narrative, ending like a fairy tale.
And so, we conclude this bizarre series, and I don’t regret watching it. It’s somehow fascinating to delve into the mind of a young woman fixated on her fantasy of the fairy tale monster. It may be the ultimate story of the bad boy who must remain bad but is allowed to get away with it. It lies on the outskirts of a dying genre, with the production level of a streaming soap opera.
All the Tessas of the world – run away from the Hardins. All the Hardins – don’t be afraid of therapy; it’s not your enemy, you are your own worst enemy. There’s nothing romantic about being a self-destructive jerk.