Title: American Psycho
Year of Release: 2000
Date Viewed: January 1st, 2011
MPAA Rating: R
There is nothing more complex than the human mind. It can be utilized. It can be manipulated. But we can never fully understand it, even when everything appears to be in control. American Psycho studies a person that knows himself inside out, but battles an ever growing sense of confusion. Within the brain lies an obsession. Exactly what it is mainly depends on the viewer.
Christian Bale plays Patrick Bateman, a perfect human being based on society's definition. At twenty-seven years of age, Bateman is a graduate of Harvard University and now works for a prosperous Wall Street-based business. His personal net worth is staggering. Enough to own an apartment in New York City. He has strict discipline in optimizing personal health, with a rigid exercise routine and state of the art cleansers. He can charm his way into any woman's life and already has at least one potential marriage suitor. There is no product he can't acquire. No mission he can't accomplish. But there is one personality flaw. Bateman murders people during his free time.
This isn't a story about secret identities or Mister Hydes. Bateman symbolizes human greed and conceitedness in its darkest form. For a man who's seemingly untouchable, Bateman displays a lot of insecurity over his privileged position. He takes pride in his own perfection and has a seething hatred for anyone less fortunate (or in his eyes, less ambitious) than him. The rules of social etiquette do not apply. If you're ugly, Bateman will let you know. If you get him upset, prepare for a physical or verbal lashing. As far as Bateman is concerned, his life is the only one worth having. So it comes as no surprise when the murders start to happen. It's the result of the character's bitterness kicked into overdrive. Shocking but not unexpected.
Why is Bateman so angry? What is the criteria for selecting victims? The story does a genius job of moving the viewer through this dark bumpy ride. As the plot progressed, I found myself understanding the character a little more, and then starting over again after witnessing each incident of bizarre behavior. There are no shortage of clues but most are subtle. During a party scene for example, Bateman's fiancee greets party guests with a kiss and the words "Merry X-mas." I don't ever recall any real life instance of someone using "X-mas" except when they're too lazy to write out the word "Christmas." The unusual greeting meant something to me. And I sense there could be varying interpretations from person to person.
As per his standards, Christian Bale seems lost in his role. And dare say, he seemed like he was having a good time too. Inner sadism shines through. Not since A Clockwork Orange has there been graphic murder scenes depicted as simple extracurricular activity. Bateman doesn't sing Singing in the Rain, but he has the pleasure of giving a monologue on the rise of Huey Lewis with "It's Hip to be Square" playing on the background just before decapitating someone with an axe. Bateman admires Huey Lewis for his successful rise to commercial prosperity, all but dismissing his earlier and more inventive work. A perfect insight into the main character's top important values.
Is there a connection between materialism and sadism? Probably not a literal one, but American Psycho makes the case for a philosophical one. Bateman's victims seem to come from all across the demographic map. Most bare little to no threat to his security. Yet there never appears to be any end to the madness. The question is not about whether or not he is a serial killer. That answer is clear enough. It's about where the line is drawn, if it even exists. Bateman's character is a product of a world that teaches how success can only be measured by dollar signs. This theme takes good advantage of possibilities even though the movie is hurt by some finger pointing to blame. Until the movie's final scene, the story's time period is left unclear probably as a strategy to apply events to our own modern world. Although I don't consider myself a fan of the targeted administration, the idea of relating them to murderers rubbed me the wrong way.
To say American Psycho is ambiguous would be an understatement. Some of it is necessary to help convince that this movie's world doesn't follow normal rules. Perhaps it's an alternate but plausible dimension. The ambiguity goes overboard so much during the finale that many were tricked into believing a bait-and-switch had been pulled. The movie's director Mary Harron has confessed to this mistake, saying that the intention was to keep the audience thinking instead of feeling betrayed. For making a film as good as this, Harron can be easily forgiven. Besides, offering new perspectives into an already mind-bending film is very welcome.