‘Asphalt City’ Ending Explained & Film Summary: Did Ollie Find Hope?


Ollie Cross began working as a paramedic for the NYFD, hoping to save lives. Directed by Jean-Stephane Sauvaire, Asphalt City is shown through the eyes of the new joiner, who soon figured out how overwhelming the job was. Ollie was studying to become a medical professional, and he was quite passionate about it. He did not want to take up a second job to focus on his education, and because of his financial crises, he lived in a shared apartment in Chinatown. While he had his goals set, the demanding nature of emergency medical services started to affect his mental health. In the process, Ollie learned some valuable lessons in life that the textbooks could have never prepared him for.

Spoiler Alert

How did Gene Rutkovsky help Ollie on the job?

During his first few weeks as a paramedic, Ollie watched a man die, and it took a toll on him. He had never assumed the effect that having strangers die in his arms would have on him. He desperately tried to revive his patient, but to no avail. Gene Rutkovsky was Ollie’s partner and expert senior. The one thing he had learned was to not get attached to any case. He advised Ollie to keep his emotions away if he did not wish to suffer. It was not the first time Ollie had seen a man die, but what bothered him was his inability to save him even with all his knowledge. His seniors warned him that he could not save every life; the sooner he accepted that, the easier the job would become. Driving through the shady streets of New York, witnessing the filth and squalor, and catering to patients who were mostly ungrateful were all part of the learning process. 

When Ollie was young, he watched his mother die. She committed suicide in a bathtub, and he remembered how helpless he had felt at that time. Losing his mother had affected him in more ways than one, and deciding to become a medical professional had a lot to do with his childhood desire to save his mother’s life. Working in the field was an eye-opening as well as nerve-wracking experience for Ollie, but having Rutkovsky by his side helped his confidence.

How did the job impact Ollie’s relationship? 

After working as a paramedic for years, Gene Rutkovsky knew that it was impossible for a man like him to ever be in a relationship. His ex-wife had lost count of his marriages, and she stayed in touch with him only because of their daughter. Nancy admitted that Rut was a decent father but a terrible husband. He was always busy, and forming an emotional connection with him was next to impossible. He met his daughter on the weekends, and that was all that he looked forward to in life. Ollie could see his future in Rut. The stress always kept him on his toes, and he was unsure about committing to the woman he had taken an interest in. Ollie’s relationship with Clara was twisted, to say the least, but the time he got to spend with her was the only peace in his life. After seeing the rotten side of society and witnessing blood and death on a regular basis, he felt a sense of relief and joy when he held Clara’s baby in his arms. Maybe he did look forward to the time he got to spend with them, but his job drained him out. Gene was upset when he figured out that Nancy was dating someone. 

What led to the shift in Rut’s behavior?

While treating a patient at a nursing home, Rut discussed with Ollie how the patient would never breathe on his own once he was admitted to the ER. Yes, he would be alive, but was that the kind of life the patient would have ever wanted? Even though it might have seemed to Rut at the start of his career that his job involved saving lives, he eventually realized after encountering such situations that his job was to simply follow protocols regardless of the outcome. Was he the good guy or the bad guy then? Well, Rut had come to accept that he was just a guy doing his job. But in the course of Asphalt City, we witness a change in Rut’s attitude. He wanted to make more decisive choices, and while dealing with a domestic abuse case, he lost control of his emotions, and he ended up getting benched for a few days. 

Rut had a lot going on at that point. His daughter, Sylvie, was moving out of the city with Nancy and her new partner. He looked forward to spending the weekends with her, and all of a sudden it was taken away from him. He realized over time he would only get to meet his daughter during holidays, and their beautiful bond would eventually fade. Rut came back to work after his suspension, and he was quite happy when he and Ollie were handed a childbirth case. Upon reaching the shelter, they figured out that the mother was HIV positive and that she had taken heroin to deal with her labor pain. She had given birth, but the baby barely moved. While Ollie treated the woman, Rut took the baby to the restroom for treatment. By the time Ollie went to the restroom, Rut informed him that the baby was stillborn. Ollie believed him, but when other paramedics checked, they were surprised to find that the baby was breathing. Rut had lied, but why?

Why did Rut lie about the newborn’s condition?

Ollie had convinced himself that it was an error of judgment on Rut’s part. He refused to believe that Rut could have any other intention except that he was not in the best of senses and that he had made a mistake. Both Ollie and Rut had to face the team investigating the case, and Ollie spoke on behalf of Rut. It never dawned on Ollie to check the vitals of the baby himself, but that was solely because he trusted Rut completely. 

After Rut left, Ollie was paired with Lafontaine, a metal music enthusiast and a believer in the devil and hell. In Asphalt City, Cross is symbolically compared to a guardian angel, but after the Rut episode and spending time with Lafontaine, Ollie was left wondering about the purpose of his job. The name and the wings hinted at how even the purest of men could have a tough time living the life of a care provider. He started to lose control of his rage, and it impacted his relationship with Clara. 

Meanwhile, Rut was offered a desk position after the incident, which he rejected. He met Ollie to discuss the aftermath, and it was then that Ollie discovered that Rut did not make a mistake; he intentionally did not treat the newborn. After seeing the condition of the mother, Rut figured that the baby’s life would be hell. Maybe deep down, Ollie knew that was the case, but he did not wish to believe it. Rut was not ashamed of the fact that he made the decision that he thought was right. He was content, thinking that he at least acknowledged reality instead of living in a bubble like a coward. Ollie did not think it was Rut’s decision to make, and he accused him of being a murderer.

How did Rut’s death affect Ollie?

Ollie’s heart raced when he received an emergency notification from Rut’s location. Rut was on the roof of his building, and Ollie struggled to not think of the worst. After losing his family and his job, Rut lost his will to live. Maybe he had found a friend in Ollie, but after being accused of murder, Rut’s guilt had gotten worse. At that moment, he figured he had done the right thing, but maybe he started having second thoughts about it later, and it affected his conscience. Perhaps Rut needed someone to express all his frustration with, but in the end, he was a lonely man. Rut was done with life and the frustration and disappointment that came with it, and he ultimately decided to give up. Ollie broke down upon seeing Rut’s lifeless body. The only person who made his journey as a paramedic bearable ended up committing suicide. Rut had advised Ollie that in their line of work they must never get emotional, but Rut’s death proved how impossible it was to detach oneself from their reality. The next few days were a haze for Ollie. A part of him wanted to give up as well, but he eventually realized that he had to find a way to deal with his emotional turmoil. Instead of running away from it, he must learn to face it, and only then can he live in peace.

Does Ollie find hope?

During Asphalt City‘s ending, Ollie met Nia Brown to apologize to her for the decision his partner made. Rut was gone, but the least he could do was beg forgiveness on Rut’s behalf. He admitted that their act was unforgivable, but he could not live with the guilt anymore. Nia was angry; she had been clean for the longest time and had admitted herself to the shelter for the sake of her baby. She was trying her best to do better for her child. Her mother was looking after the baby while she tried to get back on her feet. Ollie admitted that instead of helping Nia, they ended up doing the opposite. Ollie blamed himself as well for not doing his duty to the best of his potential.

Asphalt City ends with Ollie Cross saving the life of a little girl named Rosario in a fire accident. The rest of his team had asked him not to enter the blazing building, but Ollie risked his life for the sake of the child. His initial hesitation was gone, and he had become a confident paramedic willing to risk it all to save lives. Ollie realized that no matter what, he must be clear about the purpose behind his medical journey—saving lives—and he must be doing just that without letting the dark thoughts get to him. Maybe he will not always make morally right choices, but he will perform his duty to the best of his ability. It is only at the very end of Asphalt City that we witness a slight smile on Ollie’s face when the little girl’s mother thanked him. After the many insults and curses, there was one thank-you, and it was enough to make all his bad memories of the job fade away.

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Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni has worked as a film researcher on a government-sponsored project and is currently employed as a film studies teacher at a private institute. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies. Film History and feminist reading of cinema are her areas of interest.

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