By Dominic Corr
Self-proclaimed satirist and author Bret Easton Ellis is less than a fan of the cinematic adaptation of his novel, “American Psycho” (2000). Not besmirching the film, instead noting it’s key differences – director Mary Harron focus homed in on Ellis’ own goals but made them largely accessible for a mainstream audience, or at least the cult following it now has.
In adaptation, the film’s success lies in two major aspects; its direction, and in turn the performance of Patrick Bateman, a role only Christian Bale could carry in this incarnation of the text. As time has gone on, Marron’s cutting irony, and Bale’s synonymous grin, as he plunges headfirst into depravity without a second thought to his image is inspiring for actors who fear taking roles which ‘tarnish’ their image.
The infamous mirror-sex scene, a display of sheer arrogance has grown an image of cinematography in its own right. Bateman is in considerable control for an unhinged character, though his reliability as a narrator is subject to question, a plot point which muddies towards the finale. Leaving us in a state of uncertainty, Bateman is cast as both calculating materialist, but concealed killer, though those bodies littering the apartment may just be figments of his delusion.
“In adaptation, the film’s success lies in two major aspects; its direction, and in turn the performance of Patrick Bateman, a role only Christian Bale could carry in this incarnation of the text.”
Arguably, Bale is too good in this part, in a way the writing cannot match. He sells each side of the coin, his meticulous Wall Street banker, primped and polished, an identity which we never feel secure in. Is this the false man? The suit-wearing man, who covers for a raging psychopath, or is the monstrous butcher, relinquishing control of his vices to maintain an air of ‘normality’ in 80s America an invention of the tedious minds of a bored bank clerk?
With time, we appreciate Bale’s physical performance significantly more, not only in physique but also in dancing, stalking and even facially. His tactics of body sculpting, weight fluctuations, are now predictable practises from the actor, but his metamorphosis into Bateman is still exceptional. He dupes our senses so efficiently, that his place as an unreliable narrator is a motif filmmaker still capitalise on to this day.
“Arguably, Bale is too good in this part, in a way the writing cannot match. He sells each side of the coin, his meticulous Wall Street banker, primped and polished, an identity which we never feel secure in.”
Taking inspiration from Bale’s performance, Harron’s satirical focus and Andrzej Sekula’s cinematography. Cinematography, which aligns with Bale’s split performance and Harron’s direction – emphasising the distinct differences in the crisp, clinical whites of Bateman’s perfect life, to the stark, grit and grime of the New York streets. And does one even need to re-collect the infamous business card scene, the nuances of static shots, as Bale, Josh Lucas and Jared Leto compare their inadequacies with trim, paper types and font?
Time, however, has been less kind with the film’s writing – or rather adaptation from the novel. Is it still bloody, bold and brutal? Heavens yes. Maintaining breathing through teeth violence, sequences involving the savagery of Bateman’s self-serving fascination with himself, torturing women, along with the callous treatment of animals, still, resonate with audiences.
Yet, in truth, it takes a tamer nature than the original book. The argument of novel vs film, original versus adaptation is an age-old one. One point which does stand though is that in a neo-noir satire which capitalises on violence, to pull punches is an odd choice taken by Harron and Guinevere Turner. The violence may grow, but what it is saying grows stale, repeating itself.
No doubt a talent of female creators, the film achieves significance the book notoriously failed to do so. Its depiction of women, noted to be satirical accusations of patriarchal establishments, didn’t translate well. Rather, the butchering of women was seen, well, precisely as that. Harron, carries a deal more satire, achieving Ellis’ original goal. The apparent blatant misogyny was corrected by Harron, who downplayed the excessive violence to allow for commentary on Bateman’s character to shine through, rather than the focus on bloodshed. She captures a hallowed narcissism prevalent in America to this day, in a way only she could.
“No doubt a talent of female creators, the film achieves significance the book notoriously failed to do so…Harron, carries a deal more satire, achieving Ellis’ original goal. The apparent blatant misogyny was corrected by Harron, who downplayed the excessive violence to allow for commentary.”
In a show of good faith, Harron’s desire for Bale to be cast in the movie was subject to constraints from Lionsgate due to Bale’s lacking fame. Numerous re-castings, Harron would achieve her goal of casting. She would fend off the attempts to reduce satire, crippling the film’s entire premise, attempts to re-cast and budget constraints. Her accomplishments as a female director, screenplay writer and filmmaker cannot be underplayed.
So how does “American Psycho” sit as a piece of horror? A neo-noir piece of satire, Harron’s film finds itself skirting the edges of psychological horror. A niche area for the general Halloween crowd, but deadest certainty for die-hard watchers who thirst for a transgressive, visceral dissection of capitalism. And let’s be honest, in a horror-filled world of Brexit, Trump, ‘Fake News’ and the 1%, isn’t the unhinged antics of a white, businessman far more terror-inducing than a supernatural force?