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American Psycho (2000)

Mary Harron

USA

102 min, color, English

Review © 2004 Branislav L. Slantchev

An extremely stylish adaptation of a controversial and gory novel by the same name, American Psycho is a powerful indictment of the rich but empty lifestyles of the rich but not famous in New York's Wall Street crowd. Ostensibly a horror flick, the film tells the story of Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale), a young, handsome, rich M&A guy and Harvard graduate who works for a high-powered Wall Street firm. He takes fastidious care of himself, lives in an ultra-modern apartment, has a very pretty, if chatty and brainless, girlfriend (Reese Witherspoon), and his career is... well, he makes a lot of money. He also kills people.

There's an idea of Patrick Bateman Did you know I am utterly insane?

It is clear from the very beginning that while Patrick is supposed to be living la dolce vita of the realized American Dream, he is living la vida loca: the perfect guy in the perfect world with an imperfect fit. He is empty, and his attempts to define himself, find meaning, or otherwise give purpose to his existence through the criteria of his environment leave him unsatisfied. No wonder: when one's day is spent thinking about reservations at expensive restaurants, ordering expensive suits, bedding expensive girls, snorting expensive coke, and renting porn... well, there isn't much meaning in that.

I'm in touch with humanity I need to return some video tapes

This is not to say that Patrick is not competitive: he tries to fit, sometimes desperately. But his brand new business card is upstaged by the even trendier cards of his colleagues. His insignificance is constantly reinforced by people mistaking him for someone else. When Paul Allen (Jared Leto) does that, Patrick invites him to his apartment, gets him drunk, and then butchers him with an ax (my absolute favorite scene in the entire film). He then nonchalantly tries to cover up his crime, even as his murderous spree escalates, almost out of control. Almost, but not quite. Patrick spares two people, both of whom obviously have feelings for him.

Wall Street testosterone & business cards Nice color...

Patrick's everyday life makes him an unlikely suspect, and the fact that he is so inconsequential actually works in his favor. He gets an unexpected alibi when his friends claim they had dinner with him on the night of one of the murders. They are not lying, they are probably convinced Patrick Bateman was with them. But Patrick is not really trying to hide his deeds that much. He likes murdering but he also wants to be someone, he wants someone to recognize something he has done. But even this will be denied him in the end when he discovers that Paul Allen is just another expensive nobody, and so a witness claims to have had dinner with him after Patrick murdered him. In other words, Patrick was competing with a non-entity, and so victory is hollow... especially when nobody sees it anyway.

Do you like Huey Lewis and the News? Try getting a reservation at Dorsia now, you fucking stupid bastard!

The film moves at a brisk pace with witty dialogue and scenes that undulate between comedy and horror, a winning combination if it is pulled off right, which Ms. Harron does extremely well. I am glad that they did not give this to a man to direct because I suspect he would have produced yet another slasher flick. Instead, Ms. Harron and Ms. Turner (who appears in the film as one of the victims) have written a screenplay that suppresses the horrific visuals and concentrates on the (in)humanity of Patrick Bateman and his world. It is astounding that they manage to convey the psychology of a serial killer mixed with social criticism amid incessant sexual and murderous violence.

Do you like Phil Collins? Sabrina, don't just stare at it, eat it.

Needless to say, Christian Bale is absolutely mesmerizing in this role. Since Patrick's behavior has absolutely no motivation, it is totally inexplicable. Every minute is suspenseful: the guy could just as easily lop his companion's head of as he is to kiss her. Bale delivers just the right mix of endearment, stress, and tension. I was quite startled to find myself liking Patrick in some weird sense. Not that I would go off on a killing spree, but his utterly remorseless murder for fun or out of boredom makes much more sense than the pseudo psychological explanations most films seem compel to deliver. As if we could ever understand what goes on in a mind like that.

We are not done yet! That whole Yale thing

There are many speculations about the ending of the film: did Patrick kill all these people for real, or was it all an elaborate hallucination. Well, it is difficult to tell what's going on, especially after he goes back to the apartment where he had stashed the bodies only to find it immaculately clean and up for sale. Also, the final scenes where his lawyer tells Patrick (whom he mistakes for someone else) that it is not possible that he had killed Paul because he, the lawyer, just had dinner with him in London; that, too, appears to show that everything was in Patrick's head. But I don't think so. First, if it weren't real, then the film's (and the book's) entire premise evaporates and we have one sick but harmless yuppie with no statement about his environment.

I'm into murders and executions mostly I want to have a meaningful relationship

No, I think Patrick really did kill all those people. Of course, in real life he would never get away with it, not in the amateurish way he handled the crime scenes. But that's not the point, after all, we are dealing with exaggeration. I think that the apartment was cleaned up as quickly as possible so they could sell it. The owners did not want to know who was responsible, which is why the real estate agent, who probably realized why Bateman was there, told him to leave and never to come back. As for the lawyer, it seems to me that he did have dinner with someone in London, someone he thinks was Paul Allen, but who, in fact, was yet another inconsequential rich corporate non-entity. So the disturbing conclusion is that Bateman gets away with his murders and executions, perhaps to continue his stylishly empty blood-soaked lifestyle.

Tonight, I just had to kill a LOT of people This confession has meant nothing

The Universal DVD is satisfactory, with anamorphic widescreen video transfer in the theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1. (This is important because the compositions are extremely careful and the film is very visual.) The lone Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack comes with optional English subtitles (captions), which for me worked wonders because sometimes I could not follow Bateman's brilliantly crazy and witty monologues. There's an interview with Christian Bale (where I heard his native Welsh accent for the first time!) and a mini featurette on the movie that discusses the violence and the relationship with the source novel.

August 30, 2004