American Psycho, based on the book of the same name, is about a successful investment banker that poses as a well-to-do business man by day and a psychotic killer by night.
American Psycho’s middling reviews (a 67% on Rotten Tomatoes) stand in stark contrast to the huge fan base that this movie has gained over the years. So what is it about this movie that gains the massive approval? The iconic character, Patrick Bateman, portrayed by Christian Bale? The satirical social commentary? The amazing soundtrack? Possibly all of the above.
So let’s break it down from the top. The acting in this movie is great all around. From Justin Theroux, Reese Witherspoon, and Jared Leto in supporting roles as Bateman’s spoiled, rich friends, to Willem Dafoe as the detective that’s hard on Bateman’s case, the cast all do very well with the small amount of screen time they receive. But the star here is Christian Bale. Whether he’s obsessing over a co-worker’s business card, monologuing about a great album he loves to an unsuspecting victim, or chasing hookers down the hall with a chainsaw, he somehow manages to be both hilarious and horrifying at the same time. Although he may chew a little too much scenery and his performance is over the top, it’s a genuine delight to see him on screen and becomes a character that you hate/love all the way through.
It’s uncomfortable at times to watch, but the film maintains a consistent absurdity throughout. It also has a lot of social commentary by satirizing the “me” culture of this particular group of people and, to a greater extent, the yuppie culture of the 1980s in general. They only concern themselves with what makes them happy, even if what makes them happy is being a complete psychopath that enjoys killing people. But the most interesting decision made is the way that they depict Bateman’s interactions with other people. During the moments when he says the most vile and horrible things to people, the way it is edited makes it seem that they didn’t hear him. Either he really didn’t say it and it’s all in his head, or they honestly don’t care what he’s saying. It shows just where his mind is at and how unstable he is, while also showing everyone surrounding him’s apathy toward him. This is brilliantly done and it’s a great lead-in to the movie’s ambiguous ending.
What I find the most interesting in watching this now 16-year-old movie, is the way it can be compared to newer serial killers in pop culture. Take Showtime’s Dexter for example. Both admit to having no real emotions and enjoy the idea of killing people. But the fascinating thing about them is the way that they differ in trying to blend into society and the people around them. While Dexter is a notorious serial killer by night, by day he tries to blend in by outwardly being a good person. He works for a police force, takes care of his family, and tries his best to make himself look like the best guy possible by being kind and generous. In his mind, this is what a “normal” person looks like. Patrick Bateman, on the other hand, is doing the opposite. His version of “normal” is being a bad person, on top of being a psychopath. Like his friends, he’s obsessed with his body and his money, self-righteous on his views with the world, and treats everyone he feels is beneath him like garbage. Even when his girlfriend asks why he doesn’t just quit the job he hates, he simply states, “Because I want to fit in.” These characters possess radically different views about mankind, and shows how the character of Patrick Bateman is still able to not only influence characters like him to this day, but also manages to stand out and cement his place in filmic history.
But the biggest talking point of American Psycho is the ending. Did he actually kill all the people we watched him murder, or was it simply all in his head? This is a brilliant note to end the movie on. Even though the few minutes leading up to the conclusion can be a bit jarring with him running around, shooting everyone he sees and blowing up cop cars, it’s a great conclusion that shows he’s completely lost his mind, even if it was just a fantasy.
Christian Bale’s performance alone is enough to recommend this movie. It’s a joy to see him completely unhinged. Even though this movie may not be for everyone, it’s one to check out if you want to see an interesting blend of horror and comedy, with some social satire mixed in. Now if you’ll please excuse me: “I have to return some videotapes.”