By Afra Nariman
After Hours (1985)
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Griffin Dune, Rosanna Arquette, Linda Fiorentino, Verna Bloom
Paul Hackett (played by Griffin Dune) meets Marcy (played by Rosanna Arquette) at a Manhattan coffee shop. Later that night, Marcy invites Paul to her her apartment, and Paul happily agrees. On the taxi ride there, Paul’s money flies out of the car window, and the entire night begins to unravel from there. He ends up having a crazy night, full of weird characters and dangerous encounters, while trying his best to get back home with no money.
After Hours tells an unbelievably absurd story about a night in the city that never sleeps. Even the most regular person, who has the most mundane job during the day (he’s a word processor), can be subject to a certain level of madness when in New York City. The film jumps right into the plot, beginning with Paul and Marcy meeting in a coffee shop, and after bonding over a novel, decide to exchange numbers. Later that night, Marcy invites Paul to her apartment and Paul is thrilled to be going on a date with the wonderful woman he just met, but would later regret the whole thing.
During their conversation at the coffee shop, Marcy quotes the Henry Miller novel that Paul is seen reading; and the sentiment behind Miller’s introduction of his book, in a way, mirrors a proper introduction to the story we are about to witness unfold on screen:
In many ways, After Hours is not a “normal” movie. It’s uncomfortable. It’s absurd. It pokes fun at everything we think movies should be limited to. It makes comedy out of things that shouldn’t be made comedic. It stretches the realm of what we claim could be believed as true or real. But yet, it works!
The film is unbelievably engaging, unpredictable and entertaining. With a veil of dark comedy surrounding the essence of the story, it highlights the absurdity of life itself. After Hours explores the countless odd, crazy, and interesting people and experiences, that one may encounter in New York City, even in middle of the night. The film’s ability to keep us on our toes the whole way through is reminiscent of Paul’s experience in the story. Just as Paul was hit with a series of abnormally weird, surreal and dangerous events, while not knowing what to expect from one moment to another, we were kept wondering, what’s the movie got in store for him next?
The fact that many of the characters, objects and themes of the film felt interwoven, made it that much more interesting. The object that originally brought Paul and Marcy together, was a promise made to Paul that Marcy’s roommate has a “bagel-paperweight” for him. Although he never got one from Kiki, the paperweight was offered to him by Julie, a waitress he meets later in the film. Likewise, the $20 bill that flies out of the taxi cab on his way to Marcy’s apartment, that ruined his night to begin with, is later found as a part of Kiki’s art sculpture. And that sculpture itself is a recurring theme that returns at different parts of the film. Moreover, after Paul is originally spooked by Marcy, he flees their apartment, and when he returns to apologize (and return Kiki’s sculpture that he thought was being stolen), he finds that Marcy has committed suicide. Another example of interwoven characters and themes is that Marcy’s boyfriend happened to be the bartender who Paul was relying on for a subway fare home. These, and other interconnected aspects of the film, tie Paul’s entire night together, making for great storytelling.
At one point or another, every single one of the characters who Paul encounters throughout the film, is either strange, crazy, or they turn on him… or most of the time, all three. Strange encounter after strange encounter lead to an eventfully life-threatening finish, where Paul is wrongfully (and ironically) blamed for a series of robberies that have been occurring in the neighborhood. After Hours is just pure absurdity, which in many ways, and philosopher Albert Camus would agree, is right in line with an accurate portrayal of the human life. The film is exaggerated, sure. But nevertheless, it tells the truth: that in a place like New York City, anything is possible, even the craziest, most interesting yet terrifying things can happen. The world we live in is full of unique characters, and that almost always can result in life seeming like a movie at one point or another; and that’s what After Hours conveys to us.
Similar to how the film begins telling its story right off the bat, the dialogue between characters follows the same blueprint. Each exchange, highlighted by Paul’s conversations with Marcy and Kiki in their apartment, cuts right to the chase; they’re blunt. This results in both awkward moments for Paul, as well as getting to know characters and their history extremely quickly. To compliment this style of dialogue, Scorsese emphasizes speed in many of the unsubstantial, in-between scenes, such as the taxi ride or anytime Paul reaches to make a phone call. These scenes are fast-forwarded and rushed. This all helps add an essence of comedy to the series of bizarre, unlucky and life-threatening people and things that Paul finds himself encountering.
After Hours is a unique film and does a great job of telling a story that resembles a nightmare, feels real for Paul and highlights the absurdity of life, all at once. At the end of the film, Paul is seen returning to his mundane job as a word processor, as if nothing happened. The choice to end with that scene, demonstrates the message that although life is absurd, it’s still just life. And just as nothing changed for Paul after living through a hellishly unbearable night, nothing changed for us when the film ended. Scorsese, working with the screenplay written by Joseph Minion and Joe Frank, does an excellent job at creating an easy to watch, yet at times uncomfortable, dark comedy about the bizarre things that one may encounter throughout a single night roaming New York City, a city full of unpredictably unique strangers.