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Is ‘You’ Based on a True Story?

December 24, 2019
5 min read

You’ follows the story of a man named Joe Goldberg. He works at a bookstore, and this is where he meets Guinevere Beck. He falls in love with her, but he is cautious about pursuing her because his heart has been broken before. So, just to be on the safe side, he decides to do a little research on her, which normal people refer to as stalking. He gets Beck to fall in love with him too, but one thing leads to another and there is a pile of dead bodies by the time Joe is done.

The show has become a hit with the audience, and Joe has become a point of contention. There are people who take him for who he is- an obsessed lover who crosses all limits. But there is also a legion of fans who actually find him attractive and have even said that Beck doesn’t deserve him! With one fictional character turning into such a divisive topic, you start to wonder. Could he actually be a real person? Let’s find out.

Is ‘You’ Based on a True Story?

Technically, NO. The show is the adaptation of the psychological thriller of the same name by Caroline Kepnes. Before producing the best-seller novel, Kepnes had worked as an entertainment reporter. In fact, she had also served as the writer for TV shows, ‘The Secret Life of the American Teenager’ (the show that gave Shailene Woodley her breakout role) and ‘7th Heaven’.

Released in 2014, ‘You’ opened to critical acclaim and steadily rose up the ladder to become a best-seller. It garnered attention for the dark humour and the chilling portrayal of a love story gone horribly wrong. In her interviews, the author commented about the parallels of the story with a rom-com. It is supposed to look like a love-story that everyone longs for, the kind that Hollywood has propagated all these years. But, as the writer and executive producer Sera Gamble said, “turn off the sappy music and turn on a David Fincher score, romantic movies are stalker movies.”

In 2015, the series was picked up by Lifetime, after facing rejection from Showtime as well as Netflix, who bought the rights for international broadcast in 2018. After landing on the streaming platform, the series performed so well that another season was quickly commissioned. The second season of ‘You’ is based on ‘Hidden Bodies’, the second book in the series. However, due to the deviation taken by the first season in the original story, the second season isn’t as heavily dependent on the book.

If you are a fan of the series, book or television, there is great news for you. Kepnes isn’t yet done with the story. She is going to write two more books in the series. Yes, you read it right! There is going to be a third, as well as a fourth part. This, in turn, means that Netflix has the opportunity to extend the show by at least two more seasons.

Is Joe Goldberg Inspired by a Real Person?

Every writer bases the characters in their story on the basis of the people they have known or come across. Does this mean that Kepnes found a real person whom she immortalised on paper? Even if the story is a fiction, is there some reality behind the creation of Joe Goldberg? A straight answer is, again, NO. Joe is not a simple person. He is very layered; he has different sides. So, to create him, Kepnes took inspiration from different places.

The first thing we come to know about Joe is that he likes books. On the surface, he is actually a very nice guy. This part of him, Kepnes took from her father. In fact, it was during his time in hospital that she started sketching up the idea of ‘You’, and after his death, the author went through a dark time that eventually materialised in the form of Joe. All the good that Joe has, we have Kepnes’ father to thank that for. There is no question about the fact that the good Joe is the man of everyone’s dreams. And that is what led Kepnes to add another layer to him.

While writing the character of Joe, Kepnes thought about the perfect man that she would want for herself, and then gave it a twist. “What if the man of your dreams is also the one that kills you?” She thought about how much time people were spending online and how easy it would be for someone like Joe to track them down and dissect their life. So, there goes the stalking part.

Taking another giant leap for Joe-kind, and we are on murder. The brutality of his actions stems from the influence of characters like Patrick Bateman of ‘American Psycho’ and Hannibal Lecter of ‘Silence of the Lambs’. The author mixed all of this so thoroughly in her making of Joe Goldberg that, now, it is impossible for us to separate one trait from another. No good in Joe comes without the bad in him. So, if you want someone like Joe in your life, you will also have to prepare yourself to be murdered by them, at some point.

Having said all this, I would also like to point out that ‘You’ might not be based on a true story, but the cases of stalking, be it cyber-stalking or physical, are unfortunately very high. Both men and women are subject to it and while it might seem romantic on paper and screen, stalking destroys the peace of the victim and detriments their personal and professional life. And reminding you of Beck’s fate, stalking leads to killing in real life as well. Don’t treat it like a fairy-tale story.

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