It's odd how instantly I admired After Hours once I viewed the movie as a dream and not a dark comedy of errors. I typically dislike any movie that portrays something as real and then later turns around with the "It was all a dream..." twist. But the beauty of After Hours is that we never see him wake up. I like that you have to think about the movie a bit after you've seen it in order to slowly put the pieces together. Perhaps my interpretation comes from the fact that the closest I have to a recurring dream is the concept of me trying to get somewhere, but never being allowed to arrive at my desired location. After Hours was the closest I've ever seen a movie portray a dream world in a realistic manner (including the fact that we rarely see him in transit to a new place, he simply seems to "appear"), almost to the point where it was uncomfortable to watch due to how much I could relate to that dream. Obviously my dreams are never as extreme, but the thought of trying to get somewhere (and the constant roadblocks that I encounter) hit very close to home.
Looking at the women Paul interacts with throughout the film helps us to further get into his mind (taking the assumption this is all a dream he is experiencing). Starting with Marcy (Rosanna Arquette), as she is the one who sets the whole movie in motion. While sitting in a diner, she starts a flirty conversation with him that ends with him getting her number. Marcy represents his past love life, whether as an amalgamation of his former flames or simply the idea of being free to meet women to have flings with. Marcy represents a period that was fun but a little dangerous. Paul knows subconsciously that this part of his life is over, as he never feels completely comfortable with her and quickly leaves. But since he has not come to terms with that part of his life being fully over, he has to go back and see Marcy dead, a symbol of the fact that he can never go back to those days.
Marcy's roommate, a punk/artist named Kiki (Linda Florentino), can be viewed as Paul's response to the mundane life he has chosen to live. Kiki is dangerous and sexy but always just out of reach. At one point, Paul gives Kiki a massage but she falls asleep just as he is about to make his move. By the time she wakes up, Marcy has returned, leading to an exchange between Paul and Kiki where it is implied that if it weren't for Marcy coming back, they would have been able to have a lot more fun. It's important to note that Paul never leaves Kiki on his own will, implying that despite his desire to be with her, the lifestyle she represents is far beyond his reach even if he tried to infiltrate it.
Paul next meets up with bar waitress Julie (Teri Garr), a stand-in for his current love life. She represents the tired middle-aged woman who just wants to settle down. She even writes him a note asking to be "saved" from her boring job. But Paul is still trying to come to terms with losing women like Marcy and is not ready to commit. He finds her eagerness oft-putting and therefore feels he has no option but to leave her. Paul is now stuck between knowing his old life is gone but not ready for the next step. It's this anxiety of not knowing where he belongs that really connects with his inability to just "go home."
As he escapes, he next runs into Gail (Catherine O'Hara). If Marcy is his past and Julie is his present, then logically Gail would be his future and therefore represent his desire (or mainly lack thereof) to have children. There is a certain childlike vibe from Gail's character. She plays little games with him such as shouting random numbers while he tries to remember a phone number. She also drives an ice cream truck, which is almost a too on-the-nose symbol for childhood joy. He knows children are in his future though and that he cannot escape it, similar to how he literally cannot seem to escape the mob trying to track him him, led obviously by Gail from said ice cream truck.
All of this leads to Paul hiding out from the mob and bumping into June (Verna Bloom), an older woman who Paul decides to bare his soul to, in hopes of finally finding the support he needs. She takes him to her apartment where he gently rests his head against her chest, in his first moment of peace that we've seen since he lay on the couch in the beginning of the film (where I argue we see him fall asleep, leading to the rest of the movie). June represents Paul's mother, his one point of support his whole life. The bartender where he meets June even says that she is always there, though most people don't pay attention to her. Perhaps this is a subconscious line about how Paul (like most people) feels that he doesn't notice his Mother in his life anymore, despite the fact that she will always be there for him. June is eventually the one who saves Paul from the mob, by literally encasing him in plaster, so the world can't hurt him. Paul is then led on one last adventure until he arrives at work to start his next day. I can only assume that he then finally woke up.
There is plenty more to discuss regarding After Hours but I feel that reading any more of my take may turn into a nightmare of your own. I'd love to look at this movie from the standpoint of religion, as you could also read his trials as a interpretation of Job (with June portraying God), but I'll save that for another day. Needless to say, After Hours is a movie worth seeing and will leave you wanting to talk it out with someone right after you finish it. It may not be anywhere near Scorsese's best films, but the excellent style shown on screen makes for a very interesting movie. Scorsese is so good that even his misfires end up better than other director's best work.
Valuable Life Lesson Learned: Always keep an eye on the current subway fare.
- Kiss Me Deadly
- Battle Royale
- Carlito's Way
- To Catch a Thief