Directed By Mary Harron
By: Eric G.
It’s almost impossible to adapt Bret Easton Ellis’ grisly 1991 novel American Psycho to the screen without losing crucial first person narrative, so just try to forget there was a book for the sake of the film. Mary Harron has the unfortunate task of making a watchable film about a shallow, heartless yuppie with an inexplicable thirst for blood and gore, who can name every designer article of clothing on a man’s or a woman’s body from head to toe and who just so happens to have a closet full of dead bodies.
Christian Bale plays Patrick Bateman, the obsessive Wall Street tycoon, who, ironically, labors over every detail of his physical appearance yet has no sympathy or understanding for his fellow human being. Bale is perfectly groomed, tanned, and in flawless physical condition. His character has boundless energy for keeping up appearances with his peers (including a rigorous workout every morning, innumerable facial masks and gels, and exquisite dining), yet he can’t help himself to a nighttime fetish for hacking up women. In a fleeting scene Bateman is riding in a cab with his fiancée (Reese Witherspoon), who asks him, disgustedly, why he doesn’t just quit his job since he hates it so much. Bateman seems to flinch with pain, as the answer is so obvious to him: “Because I want to fit in!” Witherspoon, in a running gag, is oblivious to her lover’s gravity.
We are told in one of the few voice-overs that Patrick Bateman has no perceivable emotions whatsoever. It’s hard to empathize with him if we can’t understand him. His rage has no roots that we can discern, so the film plays out like a cartoon when it’s time to kill. He slays fellow Vice-President Paul Allen (Jared Leto) just for having a more stylish business card than he has. Surely, we’re not supposed to believe that his hankering for murder stems from the fact that he’s so obsessed with appearances he has nothing left on the inside, but we having nothing else to latch onto. Did his mother drop him on his head? Did a woman sexually assault him when he was young? Maybe, just living in the eighties or, perhaps, all of that awful music he listened to drove him to it.
Bale seems to be overacting at first, but it works when we realize that his fake demeanor is just a mask to keep his peers from noticing him. He blends in so well co-workers constantly mistake him for other people. Even his attorney doesn’t recognize him. His world is so homogenized that people literally are interchangeable. The only sign of errant behavior or heart is when Bateman has an hysterical Homo-erotic encounter in the Men’s Room of a posh bar uptown with a guy, whose girlfriend he is having a lifeless affair. The decadence is hard to swallow but bears a striking resemblance to another Ellis novel, Less Than Zero. It’s borderline slapstick that this guy can’t get arrested despite a pile of bodies and blatant cries for help (like leaving a message on his attorney’s answering machine confessing to well over forty murders).
Harron films Bateman’s unraveling with fluid camera work. The shots are as pristine as Bateman’s stainless steel appliances. The eighties soundtrack is outrageously funny too. Bateman’s expositions on Genesis, Huey Lewis, and Whitney Houston are juxtaposed with brutal slayings that add a searing sense of humor to the already mischievous script. Usually satirical films aren’t so obvious, but Harron knows her film is far from subtle. The points are all so overstated that they can’t really be the points, but this seems to be very deliberate. American Psycho is a comedy disguised as an high brow slasher flick, or is it an high brow slasher flick disguised as a comedy?