The plot of Scorsese’s After Hours consists almost entirely of a guy just trying to make it back home one night in New York City. I live in Astoria where the trains are made up and time doesn’t matter and I have gotten fucked by the MTA more times than I care to count—dumped in some shitty area at an ungodly hour left to drag myself home by the skin of my teeth—so I relate to this movie on an extremely personal level. Although, Paul Hackett was just trying to make his way back to the Upper East Side from SoHo, so my sympathy is somewhat limited. Worse comes to worse, couldn’t he really have just walked home? I need a remake where he has to cross boroughs.
Anyway, I can look past that because I love this movie for its wonderfully bizarre-o version of New York—surreal but familiar at the same time. Paul works a mundane job as a word processor and meets a “quirky” girl named Marcy at a diner one day after work and they bond over Henry Miller—as one does, I suppose. Marcy tells him to come hang out with her in SoHo and to sweeten the deal she adds that her sculptor roommate makes paperweights that look like cream cheese bagels, because who wouldn’t want to see that. Paul was ready to go to the ends of the Earth for Marcy anyway (granted, young Rosanna Arquette was stunning) and sets off to her apartment in SoHo (basically the Wild West). He takes a cab and en route, his $20 bill, the only real cash he has on him sans some pocket change, flies out the window.
His date turns out shitty so he climbs out the window and makes getting home his only goal. The subway fare has increased at the stroke of midnight and Paul finds out now his pocket change isn’t enough to pay the fare (or a token, to be exact). Of course, the only cab driver to be found in the area is the one that took Paul here in the first place, and the cabbie now hates Paul’s guts because Paul couldn’t afford to pay him when he lost his money, and refuses to pick him up. Paul meets a whole bunch of other weirdos, like some burglars and a bartender (who turns out to be Marcy’s boyfriend). He also witnesses a murder, gets violently pursued by a Mister Softee truck, and gets made into a living sculpture.
Paul never does get home that night, but he does make it back to his office right as the work day begins, because apparently all of this went down on a weeknight, and begins the cycle of corporate drudgery all over again.
The best thing about night is how it creates a space that broadens the finite possibilities and limits of the day. Logic and sense seem to fall away, and after a certain hour, time seems irrelevant, and there’s something freeing about being awake and alive surrounded by the dark black void of the sky. Night offers a stark contrast to the usual rules and debatably the only true release from the grind of the 9-5. After Hours captures that essence—the magic of how night-time can feel like a whole other dimension.