When Bret Easton Ellis’s 1991 novel American Psycho was released outraged members of NOW (the National Organization of Women) immediately went on talk shows, news programs, and published articles decrying the glamorization of the merciless, misogynistic protagonist. They painstakingly listed the number of rapes, murders and incidents of torture in the book. I had to have it. I read it in shocked amazement, poring over every shocking page. The writing was good and the story was original, but the tangent-chasing Ellis did seem to be a little too in love with his own prose.
More succinct and satirical than the book, director Mary Harron’s slice of American Psycho is a tasty treat that’s almost as easy to swallow as protagonist Patrick Bateman’s lithium tablets.
American Psycho is the portrait of a morally bankrupt, financially flush, superciliously apathetic Wall Street turk. But the film doesn’t merely observe 80s yuppie Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) — it invites us into his world. A swanky world of designer suits, haute cuisine, chic skin creams, custom-made tanning beds… oh, and a hooker’s gore-spattered head in the glossy, steel-front freezer (right next to the gourmet sorbet, natch).
Patrick is so obsessed with taking his cues from the outside for what to wear, what to eat, what to listen to, who to date, who to be seen with, who to be, that there is nothing inside. Aw, how sad. But wait — it’s funny, too. Mary Harron and Christian Bale create an almost magical balance between the tragic and comic elements of this story.
Ellis’s Patrick Bateman is more predatory, more sadistic. In the book, he murders a small boy at the zoo and after enjoying the mother’s hysterics, he regrets that the child wasn’t old enough for the death to devastate more people. In the film, which is an improvement over the book in that it is more focused and more cohesive, Harron’s Patrick Bateman is absurd, even downright funny at times.
When his business card doesn’t quite measure up (the business cards being used as an amusing analogy of penis-size) to his business rival’s, Patrick just has to murder the bastard in a most brutal manner.
But make no mistake — Bale’s performance is not tongue-in-cheek. There are no wink-wink, nod-nods at the camera. Even when he’s orchestrating a threesome with a street hooker and a high-priced call girl (while checking his perfect smile in the mirror), Bale as Bateman is the seamless sociopath. During sex, and while killing, Patrick plays his favorite pop tunes and waxes on why he adores them — his discourse on the evolution of Huey Lewis and the News’s music is sheer, absurd brilliance. Much of the dialog, particularly the first-person voiceovers, is taken directly from the novel.
Without leaving you unsatisfied, American Psycho asks more questions than it answers. Is Patrick Bateman really a homicidal killer, happily hacking, sawing and drilling his nights away? When he confesses to his equally empty social clique, they either don’t hear him, or they laugh it off — that Patrick, such a joker! Is it all just a satirical social parable, telling us that as long as you’re rich, tan and have killer abs, it doesn’t matter what you do? Are the murders all in Patrick’s lithium-laden head? Or are they fantasies to allay the feelings of inferiority and the frustrations he suffers? Whether he did it or not, there is no doubt that Patrick Bateman is insane, and Bale’s portrayal of him as he unravels is stellar.
The supporting cast — Reese Witherspoon as Bateman’s society fiancée, Chloe Sevingny as his mousy secretary, Jared Leto as the man he wishes he was, and Willem Dafoe as the private investigator tailing him — couldn’t be better.
Just in time to cash in on Bale as the title character in the big-budget blockbuster Batman Begins, Lions Gate is releasing a new edition of the DVD touted as “uncut” — actually, there isn’t much difference. The real reason to upgrade if you already have another edition, is the new bonus material. There are two separate audio commentaries; one from the writer/director, and one from actress/co-writer Guinevere Turner. Also new to this edition are five brief deleted scenes, preceded by interview snippets (nearly 15 minutes total, each with optional commentary by Harron).
There are also newly-produced video essays that cover the American Psycho journey from page to screen (though interesting, there is absolutely nothing from author Ellis, which is rather disappointing), a short called The Pornography of Violence, and a mini-doc (about 30 minutes) about the 80s and why the decade was one of such excess and empty flash.
= = =
Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson