Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"American Psycho" (2000)

"American Psycho" (2000)
Starring Christian Bale, Chloe Sevigny and Willem Dafoe
Written and directed by Mary Harron

Whoa.  What a sick, twisted vision this movie is.  Equal parts satire, black comedy and slasher flick, "American Psycho" is a hilarious romp through the sex and coke party that was the materialistic 1980s. 

Christian Bale stars as Patrick Bateman, on the outside a wealthy Wall Street douchebag who spends his waking hours grooming his personal appearance and making sure that his symbols of status are the best around.  He hangs out at swanky bars with his Wall Street douchebag friends, doing drugs and saying crass things about women and trying to get into swankier bars and restaurants.  He's ostensibly engaged to a young woman named Evelyn (Reese Witherspoon) but he marginalizes her at every turn, sleeping with other women whenever he feels like and hiring and abusing prostitutes to boot.

But what makes Patrick Bateman so sick and twisted... at night, when no one's around... he'll murder a homeless man (and his dog).  He'll murder the prostitutes that he hires.

Hell, he'll murder one of those other Wall Street douchebags if it suits him.

You see, Patrick Bateman isn't a real person.  He tells us as much in his chilling opening narration, saying that he doesn't feel real emotions, that he doesn't care about other people, not in the slightest.  But something is happening to him: his bloodlust is growing.  Night after night, he commits murder, and his ability to hide it from those close to him is slipping.  When a detective comes around asking about that Wall Street douchebag, Bateman starts to lose it entirely. 

The star of the show here is absolutely Christian Bale.  He flat out owns every scene, with an inspired and hilarious, energetic turn as Patrick Bateman.  Imagine taking those scenes in "Batman Begins" in which Bale, as Bruce Wayne, puts on the air of the disinterested drunken playboy, amp it up with a lot more sarcasm and add a dash of murderous intensity, and you've got Patrick Bateman.  A scene where Bateman prepares to murder that Wall Street douchebag while going on about the evolution of Huey Lewis and the News is hysterical, and simultaneously chilling.  His descent from douchebag yuppy to full-blown murderous nutjob is likewise hilarious, but also deeply disturbing.

Watching Bateman freak out over things like not having the best business card in the room, or being upset that a murder victim has a nicer apartment than he does throw Bateman's character into harsh light as a comment on our culture of materialism.  At least Bateman's supposed friends are regular douchebags.  Sure, they care about their business cards, too, but they're not thinking about killing someone over it.  Bateman, on the other hand, supposes a dangerous undercurrent to obsession with wealth and status; that is, what would we do in order to have and be the best?  To what lengths would we go?  At what point does one give up their humanity, their compassion, for things?  And not even just things... Those things have to be shown off and approved of by others. 

The end of the film is a blood-soaked, depraved few moments that lead into a rather intriguing twist.  Did Bateman really commit all those murders we saw, or were they just delusions in his head?  Is he an "American Psycho" because he's a sick, twisted, murderous freak... or because he can no longer tell the difference between reality and fantasy?  The original novel leaves this question open to interpretation, though the film seems to lean toward the latter.  Still, there's enough ambiguity to leave the ending both intriguing and moderately unsatisfying.  Bateman's end narration is truthful, however: there is no catharsis.