July 1, 2015 American Psycho still startling 15 Years Later
This past April marked the 15th anniversary of the celebrated cult classic, American Psycho, directed by Mary Harron (I Shot Andy Warhol 1996, The Notorious Bettie Page 2005), and based on Bret Easton Ellis’s 1991 novel of the same name. In what is arguably his finest role, Christian Bale (The Dark Knight Trilogy 2005-2012, The Prestige 2006) stars as Patrick Bateman, a charismatic, narcissistic, psychotic, Wall Street yuppie in the 1980s who is obsessed with music, style, dieting, and exercise. On the surface, it may seem like a Horror film. Despite this, it plays out more like a Black Comedy. It is a deep, dark critique of ’80s yuppie culture. Ellis’s vision took a considerable amount of time to be adapted to film. The rights were originally bought by Edward R. Pressman in 1992, with Johnny Depp expressing interest in the role of Patrick Bateman. After that, David Cronenberg was attached to direct. In 1996, Mary Harron replaced Cronenberg as the director. The distribution rights were acquired by Lionsgate Films in 1997. Lionsgate initially wanted either Edward Norton or Leonardo DiCaprio to portray Bateman, insisting that Bale was not famous enough. Fortunately, Harron decided that DiCaprio’s then-boyish image from films such as 1996’s Romeo + Juliet and 1997’s Titanic made him an improper choice for the role. Bale was luckily kept on board as DiCaprio left to do 2000’s The Beach. The result was a unique film which provided a refreshing, funny, and disturbing experience for audiences everywhere.
Patrick Bateman is a perfectionistic Wall Street banking executive who spends his nights going to fancy clubs and restaurants with his fiancée, Evelyn (Reese Witherspoon- Wild 2014, Walk the Line 2005), and other nights out with his fellow bankers, Timothy Bryce (Justin Theroux- Inland Empire 2006, Mulholland Drive 2001), Craig McDermott (Josh Lucas- Hulk 2003, A Beautiful Mind 2001), and David Van Patten (Bill Sage- Precious 2009, Mysterious Skin 2004). Bateman also has a secret life as a cold-blooded psychopath who murders his victims without a shred of remorse or regret. At a business meeting, Bateman is enraged when he finds out that Paul Allen (Jared Leto- Lord of War 2005, Fight Club 1999) has a business card which Bateman’s associates believe to be better than his. Paul also somehow managed to get a reservation as Dorsia, a restaurant which is almost impossible to get into. To vent his rage, Bateman goes out and murders a homeless man. At a Christmas party, Bateman encounters Paul and invites him out to dinner. After they meet at a restaurant called Texarkana, Bateman brings Paul back to his apartment and gets him drunk. Bateman then puts “Hip to be Square” by Huey Lewis and the News on his stereo, gives him a full review of the band history, and murders Paul with an axe. He disposes of Paul’s body and goes to his apartment, leaving a message on his answering machine that says he went to London. The next day, Detective Donald Kimball (Willem Dafoe- Spider-Man 2002, The Boondock Saints 1999), who is investigating Paul’s disappearance, meets with Bateman in his office to discuss what he might know about it.
Bateman then brings two prostitutes to Paul’s apartment, who he names Christie and Sabrina. After they have sex, Bateman roughs them up off-screen and lets them leave bloodied and bruised. The following day, Luis Carruthers (Matt Ross- The Aviator 2004, Face/Off 1997) interrupts a meeting between Bateman, Bryce, McDermott, and Van Patten to show off his business card. Jealous at how nice it is, Bateman decides to kill Luis in a bathroom. After he hesitates to strangle him, Luis kisses Bateman’s glove and reveals that he is sexually attracted to him. Disgusted, Bateman washes his glove and storms out. After he murders a model, Bateman invites his secretary, Jean (Chloe Sevigny- Zodiac 2007, Kids 1995) to his apartment with the intention of murdering her with a nail gun. He once again hesitates when he hears a message from Evelyn. Jean then leaves. The next night, Bateman brings Christie back to Paul’s apartment once again, along with a woman named Elizabeth. After killing Elizabeth during sex, Bateman chases Christie through the apartment complex and drops a chainsaw on her as she is running down a flight of stairs.
Bateman then breaks up with Evelyn. He then goes to an ATM machine. A stray cat walks towards him and he imagines seeing the words “Feed me a stray cat” displayed on the screen. He holds a gun to the cat’s head and an old woman tells him to stop what he is doing. He shoots her and the police arrive. After he guns down several police officers, he returns to his apartment and calls his lawyer, Harold. He confesses to the thirty or forty murders that he has committed. Bateman then returns to Paul’s apartment and expects it to be full of the decomposing bodies of some of his victims. It is instead vacant and painted white. A real estate broker sees him and tells him to leave and never come back. Confused as to what is going on, Bateman calls Jean in a distressed manner. After he hangs up, Jean discovers Bateman’s office journal, which is full of drawings of women being raped, tortured, and murdered. In the final scene, Bateman meets with Harold, who believes that his message was just a joke. Bateman confesses to everything once again, including Paul Allen’s murder, and Harold informs Bateman that he had dinner with Paul in London ten days ago. This leads to an ambiguous conclusion which begs the question as to whether or not all of the murders Bateman committed were nothing more than a sick fantasy.
American Psycho made its debut at the Sundance Film Festival, where it split critics down the middle. Some found it brilliant, while others were sickened by it. It currently holds a 67% Rotten Tomatoes rating, and a 7.6 IMDb rating. An uncut, unrated special edition DVD was released in 2005, which contains eighteen seconds of footage which originally had to be cut in order to avoid an NC-17 rating. American Psycho has certainly stood the test of time, and has developed into a modern cult classic within the span of fifteen years. It marked the beginning of Bale’s reign as one of today’s finest A-list actors. He has since gone on to achieve greater fame in the dark, 2004 Neo-Noir Thriller The Machinist, his role as Bruce Wayne/Batman in Christopher Nolan’s acclaimed Dark Knight Trilogy, as well as 2010’s The Fighter, which he won an Oscar for. Patrick Bateman still remains his finest character to date. He plays the role to absolute perfection. Very few films get inside the central character’s mind as well as American Psycho does. Through Bateman’s voiceover narration and detailed characterization, the viewer is treated to all the elements of a true sociopath- his narcissism, his nightly bloodlust, his desire to inflict his own pain on the world, and ultimately his own failure at being an individual. Whether or not Bateman actually murdered anyone is irrelevant. The important part is that he represents a dark twist on people who emerged as capitalist success stories in the 1980s. His ultimate crime is greed, and the unwillingness to contribute anything even remotely positive to society. He is no different from any of his co-workers. They all wear expensive suits, have sexist views about women, and are completely self-obsessed. Bateman represents conformity above all else.
American Psycho is an undeniably brilliant social satire, which is brought to life by Bale’s raw energy in the role. He is the only actor who could have pulled off a character as cold, complex, and witty as Patrick Bateman. It is still endlessly re-watchable and quotable. Its black humor, its themes, its soundtrack (which perfectly captures the essence of the late 1980s), and its ambiguity are the markings of a distinct kind of film which rarely comes around anymore. It is the kind of film in which the viewer takes something new away with each subsequent viewing. It is certain to keep viewers compelled for another fifteen years.