Retrospective Review: American Psycho

Year: 2000
Run Time: 101 minutes
Directors: Mary Harron
Writers: Mary Harron, Guinevere Turner (based on the novel by Bret Easton Ellis)
Stars: Christian Bale, Reese Witherspoon, Justin Theroux, Chloë Sevigny, Jared Leto

By Kristy Strouse

“American Psycho” is now twenty years old, and yet this psychological thriller, bathed in hilarity and chock full of underlying societal context, is still as effective as it was then. This is primarily due to the amazingly spot-on performance from Christian Bale, and the confident direction of Mary Harron.

With a screenplay adapted by Mary Harron and Guinevere Turner based on Bret Easton Ellis’ novel, the movie is an exercise in control as much as it is about the loss of it. Our main character is all about his routines, his ability to keep everything in check, but there’s something festering beneath that he can’t quite keep contained.

Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) seems to have it all: success, looks, even a beautiful fiancee (Reese Witherspoon), but he’s an exterior composite of his niceties to the point where his homicidal tendencies, itching to break out, eventually do, making quite the mess on his fancy facade.

This yuppie gets anxiety over the crispness of a business card and not having reservations. He’s rigorous in maintaining his appearance, and everything he owns emphasizes his need for “the best.” His co-workers and friends are cut from the very same cloth, literally, and their materialism is a common thread. In a lot of ways these characters are all carbon copies, and sort of empty, vain and without definition. He’s frequently worried about fitting in and yet he recognizes that he’s like everyone else. Patrick is commonly misidentified to the point whereby the end, he’s nearly pleading to have an identity.

american psycho club
Christian Bale, Josh Lucas, and Justin Theroux in American Psycho (2000) © Copyright 2000 – Universal Studios 

“There are times where this film is satire at its best. It’s also horrific, violent and stomach-turning. Christian Bale is incredible in this movie and he commits to making Bateman completely deplorable.”

The difference with Patrick from the others, is that, he’s got a lot going on in the inside. He may say, in that final scene, that his confession doesn’t matter- but in this case, it’s everything. He’s in pain and striving for catharsis, even if it isn’t there, and that elevates him beyond a one-note psychopath.

bale american psycho
Christian Bale in American Psycho (2000) © Copyright 2000 – Universal Studios 

There are times where this film is satire at its best. It’s also horrific, violent and stomach-turning. Christian Bale is incredible in this movie and he commits to making Bateman completely deplorable. Yet, with the humour that weaves in and out of the film, he’s also likeable somehow, because he knows he’s unhinged, and he doesn’t hide it. That frees him, allowing his character to go down some disturbing paths, that until the near end where things go haywire, is quite engaging.

That’s where the film loses some of its steam, it builds up too fast, to the point that when it boils over it isn’t as effective. There’s a lot of violence and Harron doesn’t shy away from that, and while there is an excess that may deter some viewers, the movie in itself is based around that very idea: it’s all excess. There’s a see-sawing throughout, a clear line of clean and fancy at war with the dirty, bloody messiness that encompasses Bateman, which makes the whole movie feel like a visual psychological battle. And, an entertaining one at that.

american psycho huey
Christian Bale in American Psycho (2000) © Copyright 2000 – Universal Studios 

Or does he really do these terrible crimes? That’s the real question as the credits roll. He’s not a reliable narrator. Did he hallucinate it, or was there something else here, swept under the rug? Regardless, the ambiguity of the end is fitting.

“There’s a lot of violence and Harron doesn’t shy away from that, and while there is an excess that may deter some viewers, the movie in itself is based around that very idea: it’s all excess.”

This is a movie that really takes a snapshot of 80’s culture and the societal needs for wealth and perfection. It’s clearly executed with a distinctive foray into what drives us and also, what destroys us. One of the things that makes this story so fascinating is the fact that our psychopathic guide is just as sick of it all, despite being engulfed in it himself. That division makes him crazy, and thus his disconnect from reality sensible in these grounds.

american psych bale
Christian Bale in American Psycho (2000) © Copyright 2000 – Universal Studios 

There are a lot of women in the film, but much like his friends (and adversaries like Jared Leto), they don’t get fleshed out much. The one that does is his secretary, played by Chloe Sevigny, who seems like the only other person who momentarily sees behind his mask.

chloe american psycho
Chloë Sevigny in American Psycho (2000) © Copyright 2000 – Universal Studios 

Bateman is a unique character. With his affinity for music (a knowledge base which is quite impressive), his frequent excuse of returning videotapes and his running commentary, there’s a lot of comical moments throughout the film that makes it worthy of its cult following. “American Psycho” is regarded as a classic, and for good reason. Christian Bale, while he may capture the hero effortlessly in some of his other roles, truly embodies the negative side of humanity with a keen efficiency, and combined with Harron’s eye, has created a truly original experience.

4 stars

 

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