Follow TV Tropes


Film / One Hour Photo

Go To
"I just took pictures."

"People take pictures of the happy moments in their lives. Someone looking through our photo album would conclude that we had led a joyous, leisurely existence... free of tragedy. No one ever takes a photograph of something they want to forget."

One Hour Photo is a 2002 psychological thriller film directed by Mark Romanek and starring Robin Williams.

Seymour "Sy" Parrish (Williams) works as a technician at a supermarket's one-hour photo developing clinic. He's clean-cut and quite ordinary to the point of boring, but not all is well in Sy's world.

Over the course of many years, he has coped with the loneliness in his life through a slow-building obsession with the Yorkins, a textbook modern American middle-class family — husband Will, wife Nina, and son Jake — who are among his regular customers. Longing for the idyllic life he perceives through their pictures, Sy tries repeatedly to insert himself into the Yorkins' lives.

After stumbling upon a dark secret within the family, Sy tries to take action about it, but his efforts to save the Yorkins' picture-perfect life end up affecting it in ways none of them could ever imagine.

Released to critical and commercial success, this movie gave Williams a much-needed Career Resurrection and, along with Insomnia and Death to Smoochy, helped usher in the so-called "dark period" of the actor's career, where he brought disturbing subtexts of his protagonists to the forefront after spending several years making movies considered by the public to be overly maudlin. Despite digital photography making photo developing somewhat obsolete, the movie is still incredibly effective as a psychological thriller.

This movie contains uses of:

  • Abusive Parents: It is strongly implied by Sy at the end of the movie, that his parents sexually abused him and used him for child pornography.
  • All for Nothing: Sy forces himself into Will and Maya's hotel room, threatens them at knifepoint and makes them pose in pornographic manners while he takes snapshots. It turns out, however he couldn't even bring himself to ruin the Will Yorkin he knows through photographs; he destroyed that cartridge of film and used the other to take pictures of random objects in his own hotel room.
  • Amateur Sleuth: Sy discovers Will's affair by studying both the photos in his collection and the photos that Maya recently dropped off, apparently having realized that he's seen her somewhere before.
  • Ambiguous Ending: The very last shot in the film is a photograph of the Yorkin family, with Sy smiling among them. It is intentionally left unclear as to whether this is a real picture or more of Sy's fantasizing.note 
  • Anti-Villain: A stalker, a thief and an unhinged perfectionist at work though he may be, everything Sy does comes from a place of loneliness and wanting to belong. It's telling that even after stealing a knife, a camera is his primary tool for threatening people, and during his breakdown in police interrogation, it's strongly implied that his limited contact with the Yorkin family is the closest thing to a healthy family life he's ever had.
  • Beneath Notice: Sy is so nondescript that most people don't notice anything strange about his behavior unless he raises his voice, a fact that he exploits when posing as room service at the hotel. For good measure, he also wears extremely bland clothes that blend with the surrounding environment. note 
  • Berserk Button: Don't even think of suggesting that Sy would make a mistake when dealing with customers' photos.
    Sy: I've never fucked up a customer's prints in 11 years!
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: Contrary to what Sy initially perceives, things are not quite right with the Yorkin family, specifically that Will has been carrying out an affair on the side. The stability of the family begins fraying further after Sy becomes directly involved with it following is discovery of said affair.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Sy is meek and passive most of the time, but under the harmless exterior is a dangerous sociopath. Even ignoring his outright criminal behavior following his final breakdown, Sy's confrontation with the maintenance tech and his attempt to blame his missing prints on Yoshi show just how unhinged and manipulative he is.
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: Early on, Sy narrates his usual customers on Monday, including a little old lady with photos of her cats, an insurance claims adjuster bringing in pictures of wrecked cars, a nurse from a plastic surgery clinic with a load of before-and-after shots, some new parents... and the last to arrive is a rather shifty-looking amateur porn artist, with the narration pointing out that kiddie porn and animal cruelty need to be reported, but everything else is okay.
  • Broken Pedestal: Sy greatly admires Will, given that he has the life he aspires to, even coming across as slightly awestruck when they meet in person. Once he discovers Will's affair, however, Sy is clearly disillusioned and immediately removes his face from every single photo in his collection.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Played with very darkly. Sy was a very odd man even when he was trying to act sane, but as he mentions to his boss at one point, he was the best photo developer in the city and worked on the settings himself.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': Will's affair. Nina even knows about it, but still wants to get in touch with him for his safety.
  • Casting Gag: Sy's antagonistic boss is played by Gary Cole and named Bill.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Downplayed. After the nightmare sequence with a brutal case of red eye, Sy wakes up prone but panting, twitching, and sweating. He also feels across his face and eyes to make sure he's okay before he calms down.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The hunting knife, which Sy uses to force Will and Maya to do his bidding in the climax.
    • To a lesser extent, the free camera Sy gave to Jake, which is how Sy informs Nina that Will is cheating on her.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience:
    • All of Sy's scenes look "poorly developed" while the Yorkins' scenes are bright and advertisement-perfect.
    • The department store, meanwhile, was designed specifically with lighting fixtures that gave off a bright but non-glaring light, to create a "heavenly glow" in contrast to Sy's "hellish" apartment and the Yorkins' more "earthly" home. This was done to reflect how Sy sees the three different environments; the heavenly fantasy he built up seeing the Yorkins' photographs in the store, the warm homey scenes contained therein, and the hell of his lonely existence.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Sy just happens to run into Nina Yorkin, and he's been reading the exact same book she has! Because he's following her at the mall, and he saw her buy it.
  • Conversational Troping: Sy at one point (which made it to the trailers as a voiceover) converses the origin of the term "snapshot", mentioning that the term was originally used... for hunting.
  • Creepy Monotone: Sy Parrish. It's creepy as hell to Robin Williams' voice like that, doubly so on the few times he ends up Suddenly Shouting.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: After he's been arrested, Sy tells the police interrogator that his parents involved him in child pornography when he was young. On top of that, it's implied at an earlier point in the film that on at least one occasion someone has dropped in pedophiliac images to be developed at Sy's store, which very likely didn't help matters.
  • Daydream Surprise: In one scene, Sy drives up to the Yorkin house while the family is away. This is followed by a montage of him breaking into and exploring the house, and doing mundane things like going to the bathroom. This culminates in him sitting on the couch watching a football game while drinking a beer and wearing a sweater he hadn't had on before; all just as the family's coming home. They walk in and see him before he can escape, but instead of reacting with shock or outrage, they chat with him like he lives with them and they were merely surprised to see him home. The camera then cuts back to Sy, still sitting in his car, revealing that the whole scene was just a daydream.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Sy makes copies of every one of the Yorkins' pictures to add to his collage. However, the machine he uses to develop the photos automatically logs these things, and when his boss discovers that he's been making hundreds of unauthorised and unpaid-for prints, he is fired.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Sy's explosive response to the technician's apathy, his own firing, and Will Yorkin's adultery are far more than what a sane person would consider justified.
  • Empathic Environment: Sy is introduced as a passive, socially invisible wallflower of a man. He's often filmed against an equally bland, sterile background which his features and clothing disappear into.
  • Establishing Character Moment: There's a scene early in the movie with Sy getting extremely angry at a technician for a color shift that the tech sees as too small to bother with. This foreshadows Sy's obsessive nature and tendency toward Disproportionate Retribution, as well as the store's lack of attention to detail.
  • Eye Scream: Sy's nightmare, where High-Pressure Blood shoots from his eyes. However, he wakes up immediately after this happens and rubs his hands over his face and eyes, making sure he's okay before he calms down.
  • Fan Disservice:
    • Downplayed with the montage of nude women we get when the amateur porn artist arrives to have his film developed; the effect is meant to be silly and embarrassing rather than actively disgusting.
    • Later played completely straight with Sy forcing Will and Maya to get naked and assume sexual positions; both of them are clearly terrified and Maya is openly crying.
  • Fictional Counterpart: SavMart for WalMart.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • At one point, Sy tells Jake that he was a sickly child and specifically mentions that he had mono and hepatitis, both of which can be sexually transmitted. This serves as early foreshadowing that Sy was sexually abused by his parents.
    • During his lunch with Nina, he comments on Deepak Chopra's line in his book that "the things we fear the most have already happened to us". Puts a significantly darker light to things when you realize that Mr. Yorkin had been having an affair and essentially ruining his "perfect vision" of the Yorkins long before he has even realized it himself.
  • High-Pressure Blood: One really bad case of "red eye" in Sy's nightmare causes blood to shoot out of his eyes. However, it's quickly revealed as All Just a Dream.
  • Hilarious Outtakes: Sy is such a bottled-up and intense character that it's actually fairly shocking to watch the DVD "behind the scenes" features and see that between takes Robin acted just like his normal goofy self. Director Mark Romanek has said that he occasionally would tell Robin to just "let it out" and joke constantly for 10 minutes or so when he felt he had become too deep in character.
  • Hypocritical Humor: After sneaking evidence of Will's unfaithfulness into Nina and Jake's photos, Sy follows them home and, while spying through their windows from a car across the street, expresses frustration with Nina's failure to confront Will.
    Sy: (snarling under his breath) What the hell is wrong with these people?!
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: The Yorkin family represents everything Sy wants, but can't have.
  • Jump Scare: Exactly one, occurring right before the one-hour mark and making for arguably the most disturbing visual in the film where Sy has High-Pressure Blood shoot out of his eyes. However, it's All Just a Dream, as Sy wakes up immediately after this happens.
  • Leave the Camera Running: Many, many times in the film. One standout example is during the beginning of the film, which shows Sy in his apartment. At one point, the camera just rests on Sy, standing in front of his sink, holding a glass of water. Unlike other times when this trope is used in the film for the creepiness factor, this time it perfectly illustrates to the audience just how pathetic Sy's life is.
  • Meaningful Background Event: As Sy is leaving SavMart for the last time, he passes several TVs on display. They all show a burning house, perfectly mirroring his mental state.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Yorkin = "your kin".
    • Also, Seymour Parrish = "see more perish".
  • Motive Rant: Sy, at the end. He reveals — or rather very, very strongly implies — that he'd had sexually provocative pictures taken of him as a child by his own father.
  • Noodle Incident: Apparently, some "anal sex fiend" has been bringing in their photos to SavMart or is just an infamous incident.
  • Oh, Crap!: Sy breaks into the Yorkins' home while they're away and watches TV on their couch for a while. When he hears them coming through the front door a while later, his expression is very much this. But then it turns out he was just daydreaming.
  • Parental Incest: Sy very heavily implies that his parents did this to him when he was young.
  • Pet the Dog: For all his womanizing ways and clearly distant behavior, Will does seem to genuinely care for Jake.
  • Precision F-Strike:
    • Sy, when accused of making a mistake on a customer's photos.
    Sy: I've never fucked up a customer's prints in 11 years!
    • Bill, when Sy returns to Sav-Mart to have some pictures developed, after having been fired by Bill.
      Bill: There's no reason for you to come down here other than to fuck with me.
  • Properly Paranoid: Though you can still shop at a place you were fired from (albeit it would be awkward), Bill is worried that Sy is up to something bad when he does this — believing that he may be there to harm the business or at worse, someone, as Sy has been prone to acting on emotion and was upset when he got fired. As such, he has the security guard keep an eye on him. He's right; Sy is there to threaten Bill and his family.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: Sy's Nightmare Sequence. He stands in a completely empty, white department store aisle with his eyes closed. The camera keeps fading in closer until he opens his eyes... that are completely blood red. All sound cuts out at this moment, making it all the more startling when he grabs his face and screams as blood shoots from his eyes.
  • Relative Button: Near the ending, it's discovered that Sy has taken photos of Bill's daughter playing. An understandably freaked out Bill calls the police, setting the climax in motion.
  • Room Full of Crazy: Sy's living room. One entire wall is covered with a copy of more or less every single photograph the Yorkins have ever taken in a very exact grid.
    • It gets even worse when he discovers Will's infidelity; he goes over the wall of photographs and methodically scrapes Will's face out of every single picture with a razor blade.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Early on in the film, Sy watches the classic episode "Cape Feare" of The Simpsons on his TV.
    • Later, The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) is on TV, but Sy is too busy watching the wall of his Room Full of Crazy.
    • Robin Williams' character's last name is "Parrish," the same as his character in Jumanji. Possibly unintentional, though.
    • As stated above, Sy's boss Bill can be seen as a more serious version of the Bill from Office Space, played by the same actor. And, of course, named the same. It's a Stealth Sequel.
    • The toy Sy gives Jake is an Evangelion unitnote .
      • Oddly, Jake refers to the Mass Production Eva as a good guy. While this might be true from a certain point of view, one wonders if it was a mistake or if they were trying to say something here.
      • The mistake (and the mispronunciation of the anime's title) most likely was on purpose and very in-character, since Parrish is hardly one to watch anime and was just trying to be nice.
      • Since Williams was actually a fan of Evangelion in real life at the time of filming (the toy was actually his), it was likely his suggestion to do this in the first place.
    • There are quite a few references to photographers.
    • When Sy tricks Maya into telling him her room number, he initially asks if they're in Room 217.
    • Char's Zaku in the fantasy sequence.
    • After Sy gets fired, he sits on a display bed decorated with a Hello Kitty plushie. When he returns to SavMart, one of the aisles he passes by features not only more Hello Kitty plushies, but also ones of fellow Sanrio characters Pochacco, Chococat, and Spottie Dottie.
  • Shower of Angst: After Sy gets through with her, Detective Van Der Zee finds Maya in the hotel room shower, sitting in a fetal position and staring blankly ahead.
  • Soulless Bedroom: Seymour is shown as having not just his bedroom, but his entire apartment be sterile and bare, with minimal furnishings except for an entire wall of photos of the family with whom he's secretly obsessed, which he obtained by making copies of their pictures when they bring their film in for developing at the store where he works.
  • Stalker Shrine: The giant photo collage of the Yorkin family in Sy's apartment.
  • Stalker Without A Crush: Sy himself wants to be part of the Yorkin family as a lovable uncle - he isn't sexually or romantically interested in any of them, he just envies their superficially picture-perfect lifestyle.
    • Sy also briefly stalks his former boss's family as revenge for being fired.
  • Stealing from the Till: After some odd occurrences with Sy, his boss looks over his orders for the last several years and finds out that Sy had made multiple photo copies that hadn't been paid for, which leads to him firing Sy as a thief. We know from very early on that all of the copies are photos of the Yorkin family, but it still doesn't prepare people for the sheer amount of them in the Room Full of Crazy.
  • Tears of Blood: Sy, in his dream, has blood-red eyes with a single tear of blood. Right before a lot more shoots out, anyway.
  • They Look Just Like Everyone Else!: With his unassuming middle-aged appearance and bland clothes, nobody suspects anything of Sy, let alone the fact that he's been stalking a family for nearly a decade.
  • Time Title: A film developer, meaning the job that uses blackrooms, takes a creepy fascination with a regular customer's family.
  • Tragic Villain: Sy is a deeply troubled man who became obsessed with a single family because he desperately yearned for their seemingly perfect lifestyle. Then he reveals at the end that his parents sexually abused him when he was a child, and his yearning for a normal family becomes even more pitiable.
  • Twisted Christmas: Briefly evoked when we catch Sy on a break at work, staring into the Yorkins' Christmas card and fantasizing that he was a part of their holiday. We later see the card with Will's face scratched out, which tips the police off to who this family is that Sy's stalking.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Sy narrates a few times through the movie, all of which only exist to emphasize the fantasy he has made for himself within the Yorkin family.
  • The Villain Knows Where You Live: After Sy gets fired from his job at the SavMart, he shows up one more time to get a roll of film developed. The pictures are all photos of the manager's daughter, in her front yard. Upon seeing these, the manager immediately calls the police.
  • Villain Protagonist: Downplayed. Sy commits invasions of privacy, threatens his boss's family, menaces Will and Maya with a knife and coerces them into producing mock-porn, but stops just short of murder.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Sy stalks many otherwise normal if imperfect people and outright becomes a threat to them later on, but it's because he is so starved for some level of normalcy in his life that he's willing to live vicariously through another family in order to have it. Especially when you find out what made Sy crazy.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Zigzagged with Sy. The photos Sy takes of his former boss's daughter were done to imply that he's stalking and threatening her, but it seems unlikely that he would harm the girl, he just wanted to terrify his boss. Similarly, all of the gifts he gives to Jake look a lot like a pedophile grooming a child for molestation, however there's no evidence that Sy is actually a pedophile or that he has any sexual interest any of the Yorkins at all - his obsession is due to wanting to be part of their picture-postcard family.