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After Hours (1985)

Apologies for the last post (it’s only late to those in Europe but I’ll apologize anyway).  Today’s movie is one of director Martin Scorsese’s….less than successful films.  Oh it had critics raving but it didn’t seem to make any money, mostly because audiences weren’t ready to see the director do comedy.  If so, they’re missing out on a quirky, dream-like film that you can’t take in with one viewing.  Seeing as how this is the first time I’ve seen After Hours, I’ll be grabbing this on DVD for a rewatch.  THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD!

Manhattanite Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne) is a word processor whose daily routine consists of working, watching television, and eating his dinner alone while reading.  One night he meets the mysterious Marcy Franklin (Rosanna Arquette) who invites him to visit her in Soho.  When things don’t go so smoothly with Marcy, Paul realizes he can’t get home.  Thus sparks a series of events from meeting a quirky waitress with an affinity for the 1960s (Terri Garr) to an angry lynch mob coming for Paul’s head.

I’m not sure how many will get the same thoughts, but After Hours just made me start singing Hotel California.  I mean seriously, their plots are similar as both focus on a male meeting a mysterious woman in a mystical place where he can’t leave (I’ll refrain from quoting Hotel California directly but as a 23-year-old girl, kids today aren’t listening to good music).  I digress, but you’ll find many allusions to other works in After Hours.  I found a connection to the Eagles, but the strongest connection is to The Wizard of Oz.  The movie has a scene where Marcy tells Paul of her husbands…er let’s say affinity with the Wizard of Oz culminating (literally) in his shouts of “Surrender Dorothy” during sex.  Knowing this it’s easy to start putting connections together.

The movie doesn’t really lend itself to a play-by-play as in my Stir of Echoes review, but I did do some additional research as I was in love with this movie.  I should throw this out there, if you don’t like to REALLY think during movies (or if Inception, Memento, and other similar movies pissed you off) you won’t enjoy After Hours.  I went into this movie cold, with just a love of Griffin Dunne, and found after about 40 minutes not to take the plot seriously.  Not everything is as it seems in this film and at a certain point you have to let go and let “dream logic” take over, as the movie is really a nightmare of sorts with Paul trying to complete a simple task (get home) and being repelled constantly as in a nightmare.  There’s a slew of “theories” on how to take the film and I connected mostly to treating the plot as a dream.

We see Paul going through his daily grind, complete with teaching Bronson Pinchot how to save a file (1980s computers…how far we’ve come).  When he meets Marcy the two have instant chemistry and like the same things.  As the film progresses though and Paul crosses the barrier into the mystical land of Soho, we enter a cartoonish world where the taxi carrying Paul speeds up through the aid of camera trickery and starts swerving in impossible ways.  Once Paul gets to Marcy, and after losing his only $20 bill, we get the sneaking suspicion that everyone is hiding something.  The characters are all slightly off and, based on the audience seeing this from Paul’s POV, on first glance everyone comes off as suspicious.  There’s a thick air of paranoia and claustrophobia permeating this film, especially once Paul is unable to get home.

The fun thing is that if you remove yourself from Paul’s POV, it’s easy to see this as a series of romantic misunderstandings.  Paul and Marcy have their “meet cute” moment complete with Paul’s first disaster of the evening, his pen refusing to work to write down Marcy’s number (a wink toward fate possibly trying to prevent him from the disasters that will unfold).  There’s the weird cashier who looks like he’s trying to dance and Marcy’s opening dialogue comes off as stilted, like she’s creating a reason to get Paul to visit her by saying she was with a good friend…but they just got into an argument.  Again, these scenes once removed from Paul’s POV come off as a girl trying to find some way to get a potential suitor to visit, without being desperate.

Once Paul actually gets to Soho he meets Marcy’s friend Kitty (Linda Fiorentino).  Even Kitty is intentionally aloof, saying that Marcy went out to get something at the drugstore but “it’s all under control.”  Okay…if I heard that I’d be just as weirded out as Paul.  Kitty has a conversation with Paul about women having scars in a possible nod to Marcy and Kitty’s problems with men, and there’s numerous moments in the film that start here where Paul tries to tell a story and no one listens.  He attempts to tell Kitty about his time in a burn ward after a tonsillectomy and she falls asleep!  When conversations don’t get to the end they start in the middle, keeping the audience perpetually on edge and trying to piece together snippets in the event it leads to some way to interpret the ending.  Stories also backtrack on themselves, seen when Marcy tells Paul about how she was raped…actually it was by an ex-boyfriend…and actually she was asleep the whole time.

All of this creates an air of confusion an paranoia, playing like a film noir complete with zoom to  Marcy’s face and a wink.  She always looks at Paul from the corners of her eyes and hides stuff.  Again, there’s double meanings to all of these sequences.  Marcy’s asking Paul if he did anything to Kitty while she was away could be seen as an indictment against Paul when really it could be a joke.  When Marcy tells the story of her rape, her backtracks aren’t meant to be weird, just a girl trying to save the lustful mood after she’s unintentionally spilled too much about her personal life.  I loved Rosanna Arquette as Marcy.  She’d be a great femme fatale, but she’s also incredibly sweet and vulnerable.  In any other genre she’d be the lovably awkward girl who doesn’t know when to shut her mouth, literally evoked when she tells the Wizard of Oz story and constantly repeats “he just wouldn’t stop” in a nod to her own blabbering.  Her character has obviously been through a personal hell and as she tells Paul these stories of her past, it’s obvious she knows this will repel him…and in any other genre it probably would.  She’s damaged, but she’s also the catalyst to Paul going through his own personal quest.

Paul being stuck in Soho mimics his life which is nothing eventful and from that point on he’s on a desperate nightmare to get home.  The film starts to combine elements from the aforementioned Wizard of Oz and also Dante’s Inferno as Paul descends deeper into the bizarre, eccentric world of Soho.  I’m not sure what Soho’s like now but Scorsese presents it as a weird, mistrustful place filled with quirky artists and gay men.  I didn’t necessarily understand Scorsese’s constant shots of highly stereotypical gay characters.  They’re all nameless but we see some stereotypical leather biker men making out in a diner, and when Paul goes to an apartment he’s confronted by two highly effeminate gay men dressed in pink.  I know Scorsese gets flak for his films being incredibly macho but this was a tad ridiculous.

Back to Paul’s quest.  After changing from a white to a black shirt, implying his descent into a dark, unfamiliar world, Paul’s misadventures start building on top of themselves.  He needs $1.50 to get a subway token (since the price goes up after midnight..hmm) and to get one he helps a bartender (played by John Heard) by checking on his burglar alarm.  Of course there have been robberies and Paul believes he’s found the robbers, played by Cheech and Chong, because they have Kitty’s statue.  This of course takes him back to Kitty and Marcy’s place where he finds Kitty all tied up.  But she hasn’t been robbed, just tied up by her bondage friend Horst (Will Patton).  The script to this film is utterly hilarious as evidenced by the scene of Paul trying to untie Kitty, “What was he a sailor.  Look at these knots, they’re so elaborate.”  The dark humor in this film is the best I’ve seen!

The dark humor combines with the irony in this film.  Paul goes to the Terminal bar where he meets Tom (John Heard) who we discover is Marcy’s boyfriend.  Before all this we learn that Marcy has killed herself making the name Terminal Bar all the more on-the-nose.  Tom even comments at one point about Paul’s girl troubles, “What’s she gonna do, kill herself?”  When it’s revealed that yes, Marcy has killed herself Tom is inconsolable.  Paul says, “I don’t know what to do.”  One of the patron’s, the aforementioned gay biker replies “What can you do, it’s not like it was your fault.”  Actually it was…gotta love dark humor and irony, they make a delicious cocktail!

What does this all mean though?  What is up with the waitress Julie (Terri Garr) living in the 1960s?  Why is she the one who gives him the paperweight Marcy promised him in the beginning?  Well I looked at this film in terms of dream logic but there’s other interpretations.  One can look at this as a nightmarish love story where you have a character entering a world completely foreign to him.  The fear of intimacy comes through in Marcy’s repellant stories, the idea that Paul has no one he knows in Soho leading to fear, anxiety, and misunderstandings.  The hero’s journey is also a theme of the movie as you have Paul breaking out of his secure world and entering the unfamiliar.  With that you have various trickster characters, a mother, and a quest for a grail (i.e. Paul’s token to get home).  I look at this more as a dream logic story though as evidenced by the air of foreshadowing, especially when a newspaper piece foretelling Paul’s death is superglued to his body and plays out in the film’s conclusion.

By the end Paul understands that even though “I wanted to meet a nice girl.  I didn’t think I’d have to die for it” he does die in a sense.  He’s turned into his own version of Kiki’s statue in the beginning, making his journey cyclical, but also returns right back to the grind although maybe a bit wiser for wear.  “Different rules apply.  It’s after hours!”  That line of dialogue sums it all up.

After Hours isn’t for everyone and it’s not for every Scorsese fan.  It doesn’t rely on violence except for one arbitrary murder (Paul actually says “I’ll probably get blamed for that”) and it doesn’t have the machismo of past works from the director.  I personally found After Hours to be one of the director’s most diverse, and entertaining films.  It’s different from anything he’s done and I loved it and only 5% of that love can be attributed to my inner 6-year-old’s love for Griffin Dunne (My Girl love never dies).

Grade: A

Seen After Hours?  Agree/disagree?  What’s your favorite Scorsese movie?

ANNOUNCEMENTS: Wow, thanks to all the readers who commented in the last day about the tournament and my Stir of Echoes review.  I’d also like to thank David at (seriously bookmark and read that site!) for being the first to offer to promote my upcoming tournament.  I’m going to ask a few other bloggers but if you’d like to advertise I’ll be making banners for blogs and whatnot as soon as the tournament is finalized.  Speaking of I won’t declare a winner till Monday but we’re leaning heavily in favor of males.  I’m thinking to differentiate from the other blogs of looking at actors/actresses from the 1930s-today and declaring a winner of all-time.  Might give me some more punch.  Also, I’ll be doing another blogathon this summer, the Cinematic World Tour Blogathon, click the banner on the side if you’re a blogger who’d like to participate!  What are your thoughts on the upcoming tournament?  Thanks for all the feedback!

Kristen Lopez View All

A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.

7 thoughts on “After Hours (1985) Leave a comment

  1. Wow, that was a very pleasant read. I like your theory about it being a dream. I had not considered that before, but did relate it to a humorous take on Dante’s Inferno.
    I’d have to say that Taxi Driver is my favorite Scorsese movie.


    • Taxi Driver and I didn’t seem to agree but I think I need to revisit it. If I had to pick a favorite I’d say Goodfellas or Casino (although they’re practically the same).


  2. I’ve seen this film few years back and i really enjoyed it. my favourite part in this film is the bar scene where the old good song “Robert & Johnny – You’re Mine is playing” and i like the whole atmosphere in that scene.this film and “stanley kubricks eyes wide shut” has some slight resemblance but not the whole thing.i like your thoughts on this film.thanks for sharing.


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