torsdag 6 november 2014
Robin's Favorites: American Psycho (2000)
This review will be more analytical than my review of Ed Wood (Tim Burton, 1994). Therefore, I will have to discuss the plot in greater detail. Naturally, this means that if you haven't yet seen the film, I suggest you watch it before reading any further. Much of what I am about to discuss have already been discussed by others, but I hope I have something new to contribute.
American Psycho (Mary Harron, 2000) is a thriller with a large chunk of black comedy. The film is set in the 80s and is narrated by protagonist Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale), a Wall Street VP who moonlights as a serial killer. It is based on the eponymous novel by Bret Easton Ellis. Unfortunately I haven't yet read the novel, but I think the film can be meaningfully analyzed independently.
The film follows Bateman's life before, during and after he murders Paul Allen (Jared Leto), another Wall Street guy. He is engaged to Evelyn (Reese Witherspoon), a socialite who mostly cares about being socially correct and wants to marry Bateman for that reason. Bateman doesn't care about Evelyn and is having an affair with the drug-addicted Courtney (Samantha Mathis), who is engaged to his closeted homosexual colleague Luis (Matt Ross). Bateman is jealous of Allen's job and social status and kills him. As he tries to cover up the murder, Detective Donald Kimball (Willem Dafoe) starts investigating Allen's alleged disappearance. He has a nice assistant, Jean (Cloe Sevigny), who suspects that there is something strange about him. Throughout the film, Bateman murders numerous women and hires a prostitute (Cara Seymour), who he names "Christie".
All of the actors and actresses give splendid performances, but no one comes close to Bale. If they had chosen a lesser actor to portray Bateman, the film would have been a disaster. Bateman is the narrator and the focus of every single scene. Therefore, I think it would be impossible for me not to select his character as the focus of my analysis.
The film almost explicitly states that Bateman lacks identity. In one of the opening scenes, he says that while "there is an idea of a Patrick Bateman", he is "simply not there". This view is further supported by the fact that he does not mind being mistaken for someone else and that he often makes up names for the prostitutes he hires. He does not consider it important. When Bale portrays Bateman in social situations, he makes it clear that Bateman is acting and that every word he utters is insincere. He is simply trying to fit in by pretending to be like everyone else. His obsessive talk about popular music before acts of violence, could also be interpreted as trying to fit in.
While I accept this interpretation, I would also argue that there is a real Patrick Bateman, beyond the feelings of jealosy and greed that he admits experiencing. In the trailer above, Bateman attempts to partake in the very misogynistic conversation they are having about women. He tells an anecdote about a serial killer's views on women and finds it hilarious. He is, however, the only one. This is the real him. He is fascinated by murder and mayhem and this idea will be more intelligible later, in my discussion of the ending. Bale's performance clearly informs the audience when Bateman is acting and when he is sincere, and if there was no Bateman, this distinction should not be so easily identified.
One of Bateman's main character traits is his focus on appearances. In the beginning of the film, we are treated to most of his morning routine and a detailed narration of every single step. We also see him working out and tanning, all to keep himself fit and handsome. He is an expert on fashion and even uses a Jean Paul Gaultier bag when disposing of a body. He is also very much bothered by other people's fashion faux pas and is not above correcting them. This shallowness goes even further, for example in this famous scene where Bateman and his colleagues compare business cards:
It is important to note that all of their cards are very similar, white with black text, and that it seems unneccessary to put too much emphasis on their trivial differences. Bateman is distraught that Paul Allen has a nicer business card than he and along with the fact that Allen can get a reservation at Dorsia, this results in him killing Allen. Paul Allen can be viewed as Bateman's perfect self; he has a better job, better connections and, as is revealed after the murder, a nicer and more expensive apartment. He is arrogant and shallow, but more successful than Bateman. After murdering Allen, Bateman even pretends to be him when hiring prostitutes. Admiration turns to jealosy, turns to anger and finally violence. As Bateman axes Allen in the head, he screams "Try getting a reservation at Dorsia now you fucking stupid bastard!" Dorsia is the most popular restaurant in Manhattan and only the most well-connected people can get a reservation. Bateman cannot. Dorsia represents what Bateman lacks and he often tries, unsuccessfully, to get a reservation. He twice fakes getting a reservation; he first tricks a drugged Courtney that they are at Dorsia and later tells Jean that they are going to Dorsia for dinner, when he in fact plans to murder her at his apartment.
Bateman's sexuality is also debatable. While he has sex with multiple women in the film, he seems to take more pleasure from hurting them rather than from the sex. In one scene, when he has a threeway with two prostitutes, he even checks himself out in the mirror, flexing his muscles. Afterwards, he hurts them with a coat-hanger. Bateman could be viewed as a latent homosexual, which would explain his promiscuity as overcompensating, and his fear of his sexuality would explain his hatred of Luis, who even comes on to him. For more on this, see Rantasmo's review.
While Bateman mostly prefers to be alone, he does have one person that almost could be considered a friend: Timothy Bryce (Justin Theroux). Bryce is very similar to Bateman, but he is not considered a threat. Early in film, Bateman describes Bryce as "the most interesting person [he] know[s]" and the two of them are shown doing cocaine together in club bathroom, where Bryce confides in Bateman about the side-effects of his steroid use. In the business card scene, Bateman is bothered by the fact that Bryce prefers Allen's business card to his. This implies that he cares about Bryce's opinion and the fact that he never considers murdering Bryce, even though he knows that he is having an affair with Evelyn, shows that their relationship is different from his relationships to other colleagues.
Bateman also has a special relationship with his assistant Jean. Bateman invites her to his apartment planning to kill her, but after a message from Evelyn on his answering machine, revealing to Jean that he is still engaged, he changes his mind and tells her to leave or else she might get hurt. Jean thinks he is referring to emotional pain and leaves. My interpretation as to why he spared her revolves around their conversation before Evelyn's message. She is genuinely nice to him, which no other character seems to be, and tells him about her plans and dreams, which he insincerely asked about. Bateman sees his other victims as shallow, horrible people, much like he views himself, and when he notices that Jean is different, he no longer wants to kill her. Instead, he sends her away because he is afraid that his urges might force him to. She is also the first person he calls when he suffers a breakdown.
SPOILER ALERT: The following four paragraphs discuss the ending of the film.
In a twist ending, it is revealed that Paul Allen is alive and well. Bateman is given this information by his lawyer, who refers to him as Davis. Before this, Bateman went to dispose of Allen's corpse, but found that Allen's remains are nowhere to be found. He is confused and frustrated that his lawyer doesn't believe his confession, and concludes that while he has escaped righteous punishment for his crimes, he does not feel better and will continue to inflict his pain on others.
While Bateman still believes that he did all of the horrible things the film has shown us, we, on the other hand, are forced to conclude that Bateman is insane. This, while a bit unexpected, is not too hard to accept, since we have have seen him taking medication in moments of stress. Insanity would also explain some of the film's more unrealistic scenes, such as him blowing up a police car by shooting it (which even surprised himself) and killing Christy in a stairwell by dropping a chainsaw on her from several floors up. In the end, Jean also finds disturbing drawings in his calendar, revealing his morbid fantasies.
The fact that he never killed Paul Allen has huge consequences for the rest of the film. Every scene in Allen's apartment or referencing his disappearance must be figments of his imagination. Whether or not he actually committed other murders is uncertain. This also implies that Detective Kimball never existed, since there was in fact nothing for him to investigate. This makes sense, considering that Kimball in one scene shows Bateman a Huey Lewis and the News CD, which Bateman had played during the murder. Kimball could be interpreted as Bateman's fear of being discovered for what he is (whatever that may be).
Through this, we may interpret Bateman's obsessive need to fit in and be normal not as a way of covering for his murders or latent homosexuality, but for his mental illness. He must focus his attention on his appearance, since he cannot deal with what lies beneath. Maybe he created his psychopath persona as an excuse for him to pretend that there is nothing inside him worth thinking about, that he simply isn't there.
There are many reasons why this is one of my favorites. For one thing, it is extremely memorable. There are three scenes where Bateman plays and talks about music and these will stick with you like Alex (Malcolm McDowell) singing "Singing in the Rain" before raping a woman in A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick, 1971). Whenever I hear "Hip to be Square", "Sussudio" or "The Greatest Love of All", I think of Paul Allen's murder, Bateman in a threeway and lesbian foreplay respectively.
The film has remained controversial for a number of reasons. One of the more profound accusations have been misogyny. I will not deny that there is a lot of violence against women in the film and that nearly every female character is weak or timid. This film was definitely not made with a female audience in mind (excluding Bale's handsomeness and many nude or partially nude scenes). In its defense, the misogynist Bateman is not meant to be sympathized with. No one is supposed to view him as any kind of role model. That being said, I would not go so far as to suggest that the film uses misogyny as a way to critique misogynistic societal norms or conventions. Personally, I think some scenes go too far, but I can forgive them in the context of the rest of the film.
My main reason for loving this film can be seen on this page. There is just so much to think and talk about (and I haven't even mentioned the most common interpretation: as a critique of the shallowness of the 1980s) and as you should have realized by now, that is what I love to do.