We excitedly countdown to the 72nd Festival de Cannes with a different prize winning film each day.
After Hours, 1986
Prix de la mise en scène – Martin Scorsese
We’ve all had those days. The ones that make you wish you had just stayed in bed. The nights when you wish you had stayed home instead of going out. Where no matter what, the world and everything in it seems to be working against you. If so, Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne) can certainly relate. Although, you can rest easy knowing that your day is in no way as bad or as bizarre as his.
Martin Scorsese‘s cult classic After Hours is a film like no other. And one that sticks with you long after the credits have rolled, as you ponder the twisty rollercoaster ride you’ve just been on. Going into it is best to leave all your expectations at the door, and let the maze of madcap occurrences take over with little rhyme or reason.
Naturally, things start off relatively normal. We are introduced to Paul Hackett, on a workday that is probably no different from any that came before it. An ambitious new hire drones on about how he has no intention of making a career out of such a position. Without ever realizing the subtle insult that is to someone like Paul. Paul’s eyes glaze over and scan across the room, taking in how mundane his day to day actually is.
Another day ends and he heads home. Strolling out last minute as the large gates are being closed outside his place of work. Without saying anything, it is obvious that something is itching at him. Something deep inside that is craving a little break from the monotonous routine his life has become.
“Paul can’t help but let curiosity get to him”
An itch that seems to grow as we observe him restlessly trying to settle in for the night in his stark, beige apartment. So out into the night we follow Paul, as he sets out into New York City after dark. Ensconced in an almost empty diner, and flipping through a paperback copy of The Tropic of Cancer, Paul catches the eye of a girl sitting at the table across from him. Marcy Franklin (Rosanna Arquette) starts to converse with him of her shared interest in the author Henry Miller after observing the book in his hands.
They talk for a short time, and before leaving, she drops him her telephone number. With it, a little comment about living with a sculptress who makes and sells plaster of Paris paperweights in the shape of a cream cheese bagel. Ever so casually, Marcy seems to be dangling the key to the break from routine Paul seemed to be out looking for. In more ways than one.
Later, Paul can’t help but let curiosity get to him, and promptly decides to dial the phone number given from the mysterious girl. On the other end of the line is the sculptress named Kiki Bridges (Linda Fiorentino). She is blunt and straight to the point in answering Paul’s questions. Then Marcy gets on the line. Soon, Paul ventures out into the night once more. On a mission to procure one of Kiki’s coveted bagel paperweights. It’s almost as if Paul had his one last chance to just stay home and leave things be. But now we tag along as he seemingly falls down the rabbit hole.
“Somehow these particular New York streets seems a bit too quiet and empty.”
While grabbing a taxi and heading en route to his destination, the only twenty dollar bill he had on him goes flying out the window. Thanks to reckless driving of the cab whizzing in and out of city traffic. At face value, possibly nothing devastating, and only a slight inconvenience. But the night will prove that stepping out of line in any way will have hostile implications.
A measly handful of pocket change, and a harried excuse to do nothing to ease the aggravated cab driver, who leaves Paul alone on the deserted street. Somehow these particular New York streets seems a bit too quiet and empty. As if Scorsese has dropped us down into a parallel pocket of the city, where things aren’t really what they seem.
Finally at the lofty apartment, we finally meet Kiki face to face as she strolls around the cave-like residence. The object of her focus being a plaster of a grotesque crouching figure frozen mid-scream. Once in the company of Marcy again, we, along with Paul, are shown signs that she may have hidden burns on her body. He discovers burn cream in her bag, and a book containing graphic photos of burn victim recovery. The prospect of her being slightly disfigured in such a way, turns off some of Paul’s budding attraction, in light of a traumatic childhood encounter he had in a hospital burn unit.
Already, the night is taking a turn from anything Paul may have expected. After spending what seems to be an endless amount of time with Marcy, and getting aggravated with her elusive personality and odd conversational topics, he decides to bail. Not before one last attempt at obtaining a bagel plaster paper weight, though – which falls through of course.
“His desperate pleas falling on deaf ears, as he continues on in search of some saving grace.”
Wanting nothing more than to return to some normalcy uptown, Paul makes a mad dash to the subway. But a stern man at the ticket booth refuses to accept his change, which comes up short. His desperate pleas falling on deaf ears, as he continues on in search of some saving grace, or exit route, to cut him out of this growing nightmare. An apparent oasis amid all this being a small corner bar, whose gaudy light beckons to Paul, as he staggers through the sudden downpour outside.
The bar is quiet, and almost peaceful, given the hectic energy of the night so far – but appearances can be deceiving. A waitress named Julie (Teri Garr), seems to take a liking to him, and slips him a note from her pad scribbled with how unhappy she is. Paul reads it, and it’s obvious that he probably is no longer as keen on the come-ons from another stranger. The bartender listens to Paul, and offers to give him enough fare to get him home. Which Paul is instantly grateful for. Until the man realizes he doesn’t have the keys to the register on him.
After the man entrusts him to go to his apartment in search of them, Paul runs into a pair of what he assumes to be neighborhood burglars. Who just so happen to be carrying out Kiki’s statue. They flee, and Paul returns once more to the girl’s apartment. There, he finds Kiki tied up in the company of a male companion. And Marcy dead from an overdose of sleeping pills.
A time later, he finally returns back to the bar, with the hopes that once he gets the fare he needs he can go home and forget the night ever happened. The place is locked up with a crudely written sign, indicating that it will be open again after half an hour. Julie, the waitress from earlier, just so happens to come back along, and invites Paul to wait at her place across the street. It is no surprise that her residence in all it’s popping and psychedelic glory matches her allover 1960’s aesthetic.
“The night continues to painfully drag on for Paul, who seems to find misfortune around every street corner.”
Dropping himself down into a seat, Paul looks around with the expression of someone who is in the throws of shock. But seems to be realizing that, try as he might, this night will have to get a lot weirder before it gets better. None of Paul’s anxiety or stress seems to be making an impression on Julie. She casually bops around to The Monkee’s, and offers to sketch a portrait in his likeness, but quickly angers when he rejects her amorous advances.
The night continues to painfully drag on for Paul, who seems to find misfortune around every street corner. Finding out that Marcy was the girlfriend of the bartender, failing to get back in touch with Kiki at a grungy dance club, and an encounter with a loud woman named Gail (Catherine O’Hara). Who mistakes him for a criminal and mounts a mob against him in her Mister Softee ice cream truck. After Hours takes delight in the wild goose chase it orchestrates. Gleefully aware of how it suspends the audience in anticipation of how the night will finally end.
At wit’s end, Paul finds himself back at the club where he was supposed to touch base with Kiki earlier. The chaotic dancing crowd from earlier is long gone, and he, by chance, meets another sculptress, June (Verna Bloom). A mild mannered woman, who is willing to help in anyway she can after he shows her kindness she has been lacking in her life. In a tongue in cheek twist, Paul’s only escape from the rabid mob on his tail, is to become a plaster sculpture himself. Which works in throwing Gail and her cronies off his trail.
“After Hours is a wonderfully eccentric film, almost an Alice in Wonderland tale specifically for adult eyes.”
As fate would have it, the burglars from earlier (Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong), break in and take the relatively helpless Paul. Daylight finally breaks as the van skids through the streets. A sharp turn dislodges the cargo, and Paul goes tumbling out the door, and his plaster confines shatter on the road.
Scorsese has fun playing around with us, but is content in the end with tying things up in a nice little bow. As we observe Paul dust himself off right in front of his office, just as the large gates open for the new workday. It seems only right that we end where we began, and Paul seems perfectly content at the prospect as well as he goes in. Perhaps with a fresh perspective, that maybe routine can sometimes be okay.
After Hours is a wonderfully eccentric film, almost an Alice in Wonderland tale specifically for adult eyes. You may not get any answers for the vignettes you’ve been witness to. But you don’t really care, as half the fun is mulling over and ruminating on the bizarre trip you just got off of. There is a lot to ponder after viewing, and the lesson? To never trust strange girls who promise the gift of plaster paperweights in the shape of a cream cheese bagel, lest you get far more than you bargained for.