American Psycho (a short study)
2000 ‧ Drama film/Slasher ‧ 1h 44m ‧ dir. Mary Harron
A Tale of Our Own Hypocrisy - Arsentiy Novak (FR)
It is a rare find, to find a film who’s eloquence and wit transcend the everyday description. It is thus ill-reasoned to judge it via the accepted criteria. There are no philosophical truths to be found on the surface, there is no flash cinematography nor is there a gripping storyline. Rather, this film is an intimate insight into the mind of a psychopath and with it into the disturbing nature of our own life. The coldness and calculated terror is reflected precisely in the mundane, in the dogma of the accepted norms. To discover them, we must traverse the path that Mary Harron leads us through; rocking along with Bateman on his road of insanity, laid out in gold bricks by the surrounding ‘normality.’
Bateman is immoral. Such an accusation may seem redundant when the second word of the title is ‘psycho,’ however it is important in distinguishing him from the rest of his pack, who are amoral. Whether the groomed wall street boys indulge in chauvinism, cheating, lying or sexism, they always do so with the careless conviction of drinking morning tea. It is so commonplace that no one bats an eyelid. Bateman in contrast absolutely embraces the evils often attributed to such circles and takes them further. It is not enough for him to make a sly remark, or snort a line. His appetite demands more and he stands out because of this. He is one of the few characters who actually have emotional depth. The only quirk is that it reveals itself in sadism. Such were the colours used by Bret Easton Ellis in his magnum opus in 1991. To him, the very core of the satire lay in the fact that Bateman really is not that different from the rest; sure he likes to walk around the house with a severed head on his penis, or try to cook brains for a delicacy. But really, he is just as dedicated to understanding the intricacies of Whitney Houston’s new album, or the fashionable way of wearing a double-breasted wool jacket.
The point is that he fits in. We are reminded of this by Bateman himself, shortly after which he knifes a homeless man. But here is the crux - Bateman lives when killing others. He truly lives, for it is his escape from the limbo that his peers exist within. We may well ask if he is just a product of his surroundings. How long would it take before Paul Allen himself picked up the axe? However, the deeper truth is that we really have no way of knowing whether he had; Bateman is a perfect replica of any other wall street yuppie, and is thus exempt from judgement. His privilege is his mask, and we are left wondering how many others have a darkness hiding beneath their expensive appearance.
The film is a frenzy of Bateman strutting from the luxury of his everyday existence, into the hell of his desires. The beats are regular and ever-growing, each killing furthering the depth to which he falls. Strikingly, it absolutely does not show within the aesthetic of the film. Where as in something like Jon S. Baird’s ‘Filth,’ the world becomes darker and more brooding, as the protagonist slips into his troubled mental state, the world of Bateman never does. It is, just as in the beginning, the same clean, vain, elitist heaven. And such is the implicit message of the film, there is no redemption to be found. Harron choses to ignore the slasher tradition, and stick fearlessly to the true horror of the picture: its perfect shallowness. Her film’s world is rotten to the core, the journey we are taken on ends where it begins; with Bateman’s perfect, angelic face and a cold stare, as he narrates its total nihilism. However there is a further truth that strikes one upon careful self reflection on the viewing of the film. We like Bateman. Predominantly, this is due to Christian Bale’s dedication and charisma in the character, a performance of a lifetime. However the film’s world is crafted perfectly around him, and we cannot but be drawn into his orbit. What Harron reaches is a genius way of showing us our own hypocrisy. We are disgusted by his acts, yet want to see more.
The performances are generally well delivered throughout, with some minor exceptions — Cara Saymor as “Christie” being one of them — and overall it is a very beautifully shot picture. The slick cinematography and editing deserves special praise, for it is paramount in staying true to Easton Ellis’ vision of the yuppie culture of the 80s. The soundtrack is a near perfect fit, with an especially memorable Huey Lewis’ ‘Hip To Be Square’ scene. The only complaint may be toward the missing Whitney Houston album. There are sparks of hope and pureness with introduction of characters of Jean, however they are so rare and seldom that one may mistakenly interpret the film as pessimistic. It is not. Cynicism and satire are is fundamental claims and admittedly it does take a few repeated viewings to understand that. Finally, the fundamental question to be answered is how does the film handle violence? The answer is, with taste. Style. It manages to tread lightly between thrill and suspense, between horror and comedy.
Harron is worthy of this commendation before all others; the skill with which she utilised Bale’s performance is unprecedented. There are some who claim the film to be a piece of feminism propaganda, for it is a film directed by a woman. However I see this a commendation. The skill with which she exploits male chauvinism is nothing more than a sign of a genius director. Harron does not fall into the trap of making a lowly political statement, rather she transcends it and goes on to engage us in a character study of a person subject to the troubling nature of him social standing. Of course the powerhouse nature of Bale’s performance leaves one guessing of what else could have been achieved, nonetheless ‘American Psycho’ reaches all it could have for the film that it was. The audience is satisfied.
There is a remarkable announcement made within the film. The danger of acceptance. Predominantly, one may gather it from shallow acceptance of Bateman by his peers, but more importantly it hides inside the dangerous solipsism of the central character. He cannot, nor does he wish to comprehend or sympathise with these around him. He willingly accepts his nature, because he likes it. The notion of narcissism is so engrained in him, that it squeezes out all other feeling. He has moved on from the fear of his internal state; has long accepted it and no longer fights it. The precepts of self love and self-acceptance are greatly propagated within our relativist society and it is the horror of connecting with characters like Bateman, that drive one to face their own demons. Fear opens our eyes and it is films like ‘American Psycho’ that are paradoxically necessary for our own survival.