REVIEW: American Psycho [2000]

“I was returning some videotapes”

Oh, the 1980’s, such happy times. Excess in full force, younger upstart yuppies making money that they could only imagine as children while doing as little work as possible. When did going to lunch, out to dinner at restaurants booked for months in advance, and vying for the biggest ego constitute an occupation worth six figures? Only in America. Bret Easton Ellis’ novel was looked upon as very demeaning to women in its portrayal of these masochistic males using their girls as trophies and toys, so who better to adapt and direct a feature of American Psycho than a woman such as Mary Harron. Her film version is a satire on society’s fall to materialism and conformity, showing how along with the money and power comes a way of life that is unavoidable. Our lead, Patrick Bateman at one point tells his girlfriend that he is trying to fit in. He is catering to the image of masculinity and success despite his urges to break free into his own lifestyle of gratuitous sex and violence. He says early on that Patrick Bateman doesn’t exist, he is an empty face hiding the darkness underneath, the scheming and desire to live on the fringe of society and be able to get away with it amongst the self-absorbed snobs running around blind to anything but themselves.

The story hinges on the devolution of humanity for Bateman as the vapid existence he lives becomes too much to handle. Everything in his world is superficial, from his girlfriend, to his lithium-using mistress, to his meaningless job and his need to look and live better than his peers. One of the best scenes comes from a comparison of business cards and whose is more subtly beautiful due to the whiteness of stock and uniqueness of font. Each card is identical to the layperson, but to these men, obsessed with appearances, they couldn’t be more different and inferior. It is such a cookie-cutter lifestyle that no one even knows whom each other is. They will call “friends” by the wrong name and then proceed to talk about how much of a reject the person they are actually speaking to is, unknowing they are insulting them to their face. It is one thing to allow the mistakes to happen, it’s another to revel in it and pretend to be that other person, because really, what is the difference? Both wear the same suits, have an affinity for the same glasses, and get their hair cut at the same salon. Just because Bateman’s coif is slightly better doesn’t mean he can’t pretend to be someone else.

Because of this duality in identity, Bateman is given a carte blanche to live out his dark fantasies at night. If people think he is someone else when he is raping and murdering people, he is able to live without risk of being caught. Heck, he doesn’t even need an alibi because his friends are 100% positive he was out with them the night he was committing heinous crimes. Between the drugs and carbon copy personas, no one knows who they are let alone who they are with. Therefore, Bateman can do whatever he wants, and does. With tongue-in-cheek dialogue and monologue dissertations on Huey Lewis and the News or Phil Collins, Bateman lives in his own world, waxing pontifically about asinine drivel before going in for the kill.

I don’t think anyone could have pulled this role off besides Christian Bale. His demeanor is so likeable that no one would think twice about feeling safe with him. As a model he meets and later dispatches says, “there is something good about you.” Even when in rage, he retains his smile and jovial attitude, praising Phil Collins’ talent for bringing Genesis out of their arty funk and Whitney Houston for four of the greatest songs ever written on her album appropriately titled Whitney Houston. The way his delivery makes the most benign topics jump out at you is amazing and when the blood splatters onto his face, you can’t help but laugh through the carnage. No other film will make you see the humor in serial killing for sport. All Bateman does is what we fantasize about everyday, breaking free from the monotony and acting on our impulses to punish the stupid and the weak. As he tells a homeless man before killing him, “why don’t you get a job?” It’s the man’s negative attitude and laziness that prevents him from succeeding in life. This is a time of self-pride and preservation, albeit an excess of said pride, that allows everyone to look at themselves as God. Even a diatribe about the troubles in South Africa and the US with poverty comes off as staged and humorous. Not because Bateman feels these subject are more relevant than Sri Lanka, but because he really doesn’t care about any of it.

Shot beautifully with many static frames focusing on the person’s face in action rather than the activity happening around them, American Psycho is gorgeous to behold. The stark sanitation of everything: clean apartments, pristine bodies, and impeccable dressing style counters lovely with the chaos that Bateman brings from his bloodlust. Watching him slowly unravel, whether it be from the fact he does what he does or the fact that he gets away with it so easily, makes the supporting cast that much more intriguing. Men like Justin Theroux and Josh Lucas are so effective because they completely buy into the image they exude. Even Jared Leto, with his fakeness in mannerisms and speech, shows the banality of life perfectly.

It is Leto’s disappearance that lends to the fact of whether what we see actually happens. Did Bateman kill him and continue with his atrocities afterwards or did Leto really go to London, where people had lunch with him, and the murder was just imagination? No one can ever really know since no character ever knows whom it is they are talking to. Perhaps those who saw Leto really saw others who pretended to be him mistakenly, or maybe he was there still alive and breathing. This is the confusion with insanity and chaos, one can’t tell the difference between truth and fiction; the line blurs to infinity. American Psycho could be a tale of the psyche or a story of murderous rage left unchecked, it’s really up to you to decide.

American Psycho 10/10 | ★ ★ ★ ★


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