After Hours

Martin Scorsese, 1985


Martin Scorsese’s dark comedy After Hours isn’t just a journey, it’s a trip, highlighting Scorsese’s range as a director. It follows Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne) through a wild night in lower Manhattan. Upon meeting the strange and beautiful Marcy Franklin (Rosanna Arquette), Paul decides to take a chance and break the mundane routine of his life as an office worker. As opposed to the “yuppies” that Paul is used to encountering in upper Manhattan, he finds himself in the company of eccentric artists, violent punk rockers, and working class heroes. Paul finds himself traversing a surreal version of the familiar city in which he works and lives, with most of his night focusing on simply getting home.


Paul’s call to adventure occurs when he leaves his data entry job in an uptown Manhattan office and decides to go to a cafe, feeling dissatisfied with his life. There he meets Marcy, and is quickly enamored with her. After some dialogue where Marcy mentions her artist roommate Kiki who makes sculptures of cream cheese bagels to sell as paperweights, he gets her phone number. Kiki could be considered the “supernatural aid” throughout the film, as Paul uses the excuse that he wants to buy one of her paperweights to call Marcy and go to her apartment.


He crosses the threshold into the unknown by hailing a cab from his apartment to SoHo, but his money flies out the cab window, and he’s unable to pay the driver when they arrive. The driver is furious and curses Paul before driving off. Unlike the heroes of journeys past, Paul is left without a guide to help him through the unknown. Any mentors or helpers that appear through Paul’s journey, such as Tom the bartender who offers him money for the increased night fare for the subway, are sabotaged by Paul’s previous actions. When Paul goes to see Marcy, he rejects her sexual advances because he comes to assume that he has terrible burns on her body. She’s devastated by his rejection.


He ends up returning to Marcy and Kiki’s shared apartment when he catches two burglars, Neil and Pepe, stealing one of Kiki’s statues. He brings it back and Kiki tells Paul that Marcy was upset and he should apologize to her, inviting him and Marcy to meet up with her and her boyfriend at Club Berlin for an art show later that night. He goes into Marcy’s room and finds that she committed suicide by overdose. In a nightmarish coincidence, it turns out that Marcy was Tom’s girlfriend, and he’s destroyed by the news of her suicide.


The other people Paul meets throughout the night represent his trials. Julie, the bar’s waitress who quickly develops a crush on Paul, decides to quit her job. With newfound time on her hands, she offers to let Paul hang out in her apartment while he waits for Tom to reopen the bar so he can return his keys. She reveals she’s an amateur artist and uses this as an excuse to draw a portrait of him. When Julie suggests Paul stay the night, he considers until he sees the mousetraps strewn about her apartment. Disgusted, he refuses and insists he needs to go home.


In his various attempts to return to the familiarity of his apartment, Paul finds himself further and further from it. He tries to help Tom, and ends up accused of being the burglar responsible for break-ins in the apartment complex. With a scorned Julie teaming up with Tom’s enraged neighbors to catch him. In his last visit to Tom’s apartment, he witnesses a couple arguing in an adjacent apartment block, with the woman shooting her husband multiple times. Worn out from the unforgiving journey he’s been through thus far, he laments that he’ll probably get blamed for that too. Though he’s been in the city he calls home the whole night, he’s a stranger in the clearly tight-knit neighborhood he’s ventured out to. He really doesn’t know anyone, and no one knows him. Even in his attempts to make connections and get help, it’s almost as if he’s speaking another language as his intentions become increasingly misconstrued by the people he meets that night.


The night takes a truly unexpected turn when the vigilante mob in SoHo wants Paul out of the neighborhood too. Led by Gail, an off-duty ice cream truck driver, the mob relentlessly chases him through the streets. As Paul flees through the labyrinthine alleyways, fire escapes and seedy establishments that are still open late into the night, he can sense he’s out of options. Still, all hope isn’t lost yet, as he comes up with one final, desperate idea to at least get away from the vigilante mob.


Paul’s redemption is, in true Scorsese fashion, a penance – an atonement for his sins. Paul decides to hide in Club Berlin, thinking it would be the last place anyone would look for him. June, a sculptor who lives in Club Berlin’s basement, offers to help Paul when the vigilante mob insists on searching the club for him. She quickly hides him by encasing him in papier-mâché, a living sculpture and direct callback to Marcy and Kiki. He remains trapped, his fate now entirely out of his hands as the mob searches the club and June’s basement apartment. Empty-handed, they leave, but June refuses to free Paul from the sculpture in case the mob returns.


Though June leaves her apartment for a few minutes, Paul is left in this purgatorial state. He’s free from the unforgiving determination of the vigilantes, but he’s more trapped than ever as he literally can’t go anywhere. His freedom and survival look bleaker than ever as it seems he’ll never be able to make it out of SoHo and return back home.


Neil and Pepe, the two burglars who Paul had caught with Kiki’s sculpture earlier that night, end up in June’s apartment through a manhole. Upon noticing the papier-mâché statue, they decide to steal it, unaware that Paul is inside. The pair argue over the decision to steal the statue over a new stereo, concluding with: “A stereo’s a stereo. Art is forever.”


The film ends where it begins, at Paul’s mundane office job. As the papier-mâché statue he is enclosed in falls out of the burglars’ van, it breaks open in the middle of the street. Paul, seemingly unfazed, brushes himself off and walks into the building as a new workday starts. After Hours comes full circle, with the debris from the statue dusting his clothes as the only evidence of Paul’s surreal journey in SoHo. Paul probably wants to keep it that way.


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