American Psycho, 2000.
Directed by Mary Harron.
Starring Christian Bale, Jared Leto, Reese Witherspoon and Willem Dafoe.
Patrick Bateman is a wealthy and successful banker living a luxurious life of expensive dinners and coke-fueled nights of clubbing in 1980s New York. Unbeknownst to his friends, Bateman is also a crazed serial killer divulging in the sadistic pleasures of murder, mutilation and pop music.
Famed transgressive author Bret Easton Ellis is a man whose work regularly attracts controversy and scorn from critics and opinionated people and in 1991 he unleashed upon the world possibly his most popular and certainly his most controversial work, the ultra-violent satirical novel American Psycho.
Unfortunately, I haven’t read the novel so I can’t comment on its quality, but judging by the various angry reactions from censors, critics and feminists (including famed feminist Gloria Steinem) I can guess it’s a lovely charming book that’s perfectly safe to read to your children at bedtime.
What I can tell you though is that the film adaptation is possibly one of my favourite films, and I have to confess, I’m a tad embarrassed to admit that it’s one of my favourite films, mainly because it’s just a bit bloody twisted. However while twisted, American Psycho is also one of the smartest and funniest satirical slashers ever made.
Christian Bale (who coincidently is Gloria Steinem’s stepson) is amazing as Patrick Bateman. Charismatic, arrogant, slimy and narcissistic, Bale perfectly captures the many shades of Bateman with the character come off as a genuinely loathsome and unlikeable prick of a man, yet still managing to make him such a fun and entertaining one to watch.
You might want to punch him repeatedly in his smug Yuppie face but you’ll let him finish telling you about all the wonders of Phil Collins and his work with Genesis before you throw the first left hook. He’s a guy you love to hate and hate to love.
The real crazy fun happens when Bale gets the chance to reveal Bateman’s homicidal side, like when he’s moonwalking with an axe and raincoat to the sounds of Huey Lewis while ruminating about why “Hip to be Square” is such a great song. All right before brutally taking an axe to the face of poor old Jared Leto with a simple “HEY PAUL!”.
This scene also allows us the somewhat bizarre image of Batman killing the Joker. I guess Christian Bale didn’t like Suicide Squad either.
Now some of you might be writing that American Psycho technically isn’t a horror film and in a sense, you might be partly right.
Like Dead Ringers (which I reviewed earlier this week), American Psycho isn’t a horror film in the traditional sense and people going into it hoping to see a bloodied Bale running around naked with a chainsaw for 90 minutes hacking people up will be very disappointed. He only does that for about 5 minutes.
Bad jokes aside, the film is less a horror and more of a black comedy that satirizes the excessive consumerist Yuppie culture of the 1980s, with Bateman being a literal monster created by capitalism. This satirical side of the story is mainly why I love the film, with the satire, while obvious, still managing to feel sharp and funny.
This satirical swipe is perhaps most apparent when Bateman and his colleagues are comparing business cards, talking about the font of the letters, the shade of the white the cards are or whether or not they have a water mark.
It’s such a frivolous, yet hilarious conversation that highlights the smug narcissism of Yuppie culture. Most people worry about having enough money to buy food, these guys worry about having enough money to get their cards the right shade of white.
A more subtle touch though comes in a repeated conversation topic between Bateman and his friends, their constant conversations about getting reservations at the most exclusive restaurants. It’s very telling when in one instance, one of Bateman’s colleagues admits he isn’t even hungry, he just wants a reservation at a fancy restaurant. They don’t actually care what foods on offer they just want to be seen eating it.
However away from the Yuppie mockery (which is always good fun) the film is also a darkly comic character study with Bateman being a truly fascinating character to study.
Bateman’s narration to the viewer about all the very expensive things he owns or his ridiculous morning routine (just have a shower and shave for Christ’s sake) or his musical tastes, merely highlight his emptiness as a human being.
It’s very noticeable when he suddenly stops talking about what kind of lotion or oil he uses in the morning and begins talking about how “there is an idea of a Patrick Bateman” and how “I’m simply not there”.
Or if you want a more obvious example, when he’s asked by his fiancée why he even bothers having a job (he’s already very wealthy and his father runs the company) Bateman’s answer is very telling about his apparent lack of a real personality, stating simply “I want to fit in”.
Status and conformity are all that matter to Bateman, but even still, with all his wealth and material possessions, he still can’t seem to find happiness. Only murder’s and executions seem to bring him any kind of pleasure. Or was it mergers and acquisitions?
American Psycho is a film that, like the novel on which it’s based, is likely to polarise viewers.
Some of you will laud it as a clever satirical character study of a murderer and the Yuppie lifestyle, while others will denounce it as a piece of misogynistic trash about a woman murdering Yuppie scumbag (although interestingly the film was written and directed by women).
As for me, well just read my review, I bloody love this film.
Christian Bale’s central performance is outstanding and one can kind of see why he eventually was cast as Batman, with some shades of Bateman’s personality seemingly carrying over to his interpretation of Bruce Wayne’s arrogant douchebag public persona. Also, Bateman sounds a bit like Batman. Coincidence? Probably.
I love the overall feel of the film, with it a being deeply engrossing, fascinating, sharp and darkly hilarious watch that never dulls with age.
It also doesn’t hurt that it has a brilliant soundtrack of classic 80s music, and you’re not likely to ever see Phil Collins’ hit song Sussido used in a funnier or more graphic way than here. Three words; Phil Collins threesome.
Whether you love the film or utterly despise it is entirely up to you, but you’d be doing yourself a great disservice if you don’t at least give American Psycho a watch.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to return some videotapes.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★