American Psycho, directed by Mary Harron and written with Guinevere Turner, is an adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ 1991 novel. Set in the 1980s the story follows the increasingly unhinged Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) as he yields to his homicidal urges. Bateman’s voice-over tells us early on, “I simply am not there”, yet what the audience witnesses for the 104 minute runtime refutes this: Bateman is definitely present, and not just in a fictional sense. Sadly the basis of Bateman’s caricature is still alive and well today in 2020 and has reached new heights; the insatiable businessman sits now in office. While Bateman talks of his mental void, his actions clearly show an internal deviancy and complexity to his character. He may not be present, but his actions have ramifications for those he inflicts violence upon.
Harron’s American Psycho is a satire that digs into the 80s yuppie culture and tears it to shreds. Nothing is genuine, everything is egocentric and there is no connection between people. Bateman is an investment banker, and is constantly mistaken for others in the company because of their sameness; easily lost behind their Valentino suits. Individuality has been killed by consumerism, which has made people interchangeable. The surface-level outlook means that everyone’s primary concern is their appearance. The film starts, YouTube-influencer-style, with Bateman’s elaborate morning routine, which he pays meticulous attention to. Shallowness permeates one of my favourite scenes, in which Bateman becomes crazed when he sees his colleagues’ business cards and realises that they’re nicer than his. The card is trivial and the competitiveness regarding it superficial, but this is what these men care about. To the extent that Paul Allen (Jared Leto), who has the nicest card, becomes an object of loathing for Bateman.
Christian Bale brings so much to this role, he’s able to show the deadpan manner of Bateman, whilst also coming alive in frantic, erratic scenes of terror and hysteria. Bateman feels like a character that is faking his way through life. He’s aware of how he’s perceived and has scripted tidbits of information, especially in regards to music, that he whips out in order to feign human understanding. Ellis’ novel received a lot of backlash for its violence and Bateman’s misogynistic attitude. This is present in the film too, toxic masculinity and Bateman’s domineering approach are applied to everyone that he views as inferior, including the homeless that he’s sickened by. He commits crimes because he enjoys the brutality and has the unchecked power to inflict it. The film features a naked Bale running blood-soaked down a corridor wielding a chainsaw. I mean, come on. This is chaotic, loud violence to highlight Bateman’s being above the law. Although there are scenes with Willem Dafoe’s Detective Donald Kimball, in which it feels the walls are closing in, you question how Bateman’s privilege will come into play.
The use of satire works so well in this film, as a critique not only of capitalist society, but modes of conformity and repression. There are multiple moments in which Bateman’s character confesses his crimes to other characters, but they’re too caught up in their own lives to hear him. Everyone is so distracted by their own pursuit of status that Bateman’s cries for help and attention go unnoticed. Mistaking ‘murders and executions’ for ‘mergers and acquisitions’ sums it up perfectly. Bateman is engaged to Evelyn Williams (Reese Witherspoon), but even this is for show. Bateman feels isolated, with no genuine attachments around him, but the real horror lies in the fact he is not a singular entity, but part of a collective. These young, affluent businessmen, thriving off capitalism, are entitled and unstoppable in fulfilling their desires.
American Psycho is a humorous satire, with perpetual tension. Bateman’s mask of sanity slips further down as the film progresses. This America, strife with materialism, breeds cold people, more concerned with restaurant reservations at the restaurant Dorsia, than anything real. The film feels bleak in its depiction of the over-indulgence of those with power and their ability to literally get away with murder. From the story to the cinematography and look of the film, I thoroughly enjoyed watching this film.