American Psycho (2000) directed by Mary Harron is part horror, part thriller, and a dark comedy about Patrick Bateman, (played by Christian Bale) a wealthy stock broker who indulges in killing people while prescribing to the lavish 80s materialistic lifestyle in New York City. When I first watched this film several years ago, I didn’t know what to think of it. My first impression was this entire insanity took place as Bateman’s wild inner fantasy, but after assessing it a few more times, I feel like it’s not as it seems. Yes, the entire ending is oddly ambiguous and no I haven’t read the novel yet, but I can’t stop thinking that Bateman did perhaps murder all those people. Beneath his calm demeanor there is a being who is “simply not there” as he states in one of his gnarly monologues. The real kicker is when he confesses, “My pain is constant and sharp, and I do not hope for a better world for anyone. In fact, I want my pain to be inflicted on others.” Bingo! Right there! The entire premise. Even after spilling his disturbing remarks about this pain he holds within he turns around and says his confession means nothing. So, there’s a ton of back and forth banter which really makes this character an unreliable narrator but that’s the fun in this crazy, violent-filled film.
It’s confusing, and given the context of this story which is smack dab in the 1980s, you have to think about it historically. What was actually happening in the 80s? In New York, the environment and society were changing rapidly, guzzling capitalistic ventures and competing with your fellow friends about who has the coolest gadget or in this case business card. It’s a shallow, narcissistic, whirlwind of elegant restaurants congregated by slick businessmen who do nothing but talk about who’s better in bed, business, taste and style in suits. It’s a freaking pissing competition.
Now, what if Bateman was simply annoyed by all that frivolous background noise and was fed up of trying to impress and keep up with that kind of shallow lifestyle. It’s a big what if, but maybe he was searching for something real beneath his cluttered soul. Perhaps, in the midst of his search he was lured by the scent of blood one random night walking through a dark alley and murders the homeless man who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And in his moment of killing, he has the epiphany that killing is what’s real. Killing is what makes him feel alive aside from all the vanity, power, greed, and arrogance that has become his painful weary existence. Which makes me question how does one become a psychopath? Society? Or are some just inherently evil? But that’s a whole other discussion. The violence thrusts the narrative down a twisted crossroad blurred between reality and fantasy. Even in an interview with Marc Maron, the author, Bret Easton Ellis states, “You don’t know if some of these things happen or not. You don’t even know if the murders happen or not. Which to me is interesting. To me it’s much more interesting not to know than to definitely know.”
This is one of those things that really intrigue me about novels especially when there’s an unreliable narrator involved because it keeps things wildly interesting such as Nabokov’s Lolita. Was Humbert, Humbert really reliable? It’s great dinner conversation but, that’s getting off topic.
There are some very comical parts throughout American Psycho, where Bateman is mouthing off is actual thoughts, and feelings to anyone he engages with such as the drycleaner, lawyer, and his numerous dates. What’s awesome is a big part of Mary Harron’s style is satire based and she does a tremendously brutal job in bringing that to the screen. I enjoy the fact she directed this story where the focus is in depth with a male perspective. She drew out the humor behind Bateman’s obsession of status which is threaded hilariously throughout the film. Harron also directed I Shot Andy Warhol which shares a vein in the theme of erratic egos in male characters. Her perspective into those obsessive character’s behaviors and their stories make her films complex and alluring. One of my favorite scenes in American Psycho is his moonwalk with the axe in hand while ranting a Huey Lewis and the News album. It’s sickly hilarious because he’s dancing and goes ballistic hacking someone to death as music is blasting in the background. The timing and the movement of that scene works well. At which point you don’t know if you should be horrified or be laughing at the absurdity of this scene. Ah I love dark comedy. And can we call agree, the 80s music makes this film simply sublime.