Classic Film | Issue 11
American Psycho (2000)
American Psycho tracks the life of Patrick Bateman. He is 27 years old, has a group of work-hard-play-hard Wall Street friends, a fiancée (Reese Witherspoon) and listens to Huey Lewis and the News. He has a meticulous morning regiment of facial scrubs. But like the herb mint facial mask he puts on in the morning, Patrick Bateman is but a successful yet anonymous front to a malign psychopath.
The film is adapted from the novel by Bret Easton Ellis which was condemned for its relentlessly distasteful content. Released in 2000, under Harron’s direction, it draws on themes of the artificial consumer existence and the illusion of the American Dream.
There’s something unnerving about Christian Bale’s insidious performance, blurring sanity and insanity. A typical night out for this guy involves playing Huey Lewis and the News’s “It’s Hip to be square”, while giving a thoughtful summary of the album, before plunging an axe in to his colleague and nemesis, Paul Allen (Jared Leto). The seemingly arbitrary switch between scenes of apparently normal conversation and horrific violence brilliantly exhibit Bateman’s perturbed psyche. As the authorities haplessly fail to close in on him, the violent acts escalate and he loses all sense of reality. All those around him remain unresponsive to his unusual behaviour.
The often upbeat script gives a sense of emotional disconnection between all the characters, in which sense it is completely faithful to the book. They tend to care more about securing a dinner reservation or the subtleties of their colleagues’ typeface on their business card than any emotional nuances, psychotic or not. The only respite from this comes from Bateman himself as first-person narrator. The soundtrack, scored by John Cale, skilfully brings depth to the film – a range of 80s feel-good classics through to chilling full orchestral scores that perfectly accompany the serial killer’s manic crescendo. The film explores what is real and what we are numb to as the viewer progressively loses a sense of timescale and even reality.
– Theo Kay