I’m sorry, I have to return some videotapes!
Screenplay By: Mary Harron & Guinevere Turner
Directed By: Mary Harron
American Psycho is a film that at first glance doesn’t appear to know what it is. But, in the tradition of great films like Fargo, it knows exactly what it is and refuses to confine itself to any genre label. American Psycho is a horror film, it’s a thriller, it’s a dark comedy, it’s a drama, but mainly it is a finely crafted film. It doesn’t surprise me that American Psycho was a polarizing picture upon its release. I have found that the movie going audience still isn’t quite ready for movies that refuse to kowtow to genre labels while at the same time using violence as a message.
I suppose I should get it out of the way right now that there is a possibly big twist in the film, so if you don’t want to possibly be spoiled then don’t read any further.
The crowning achievement in American Psycho is hard to pin down, because there are three moments that I feel speak to the craftsmanship on display,
The first is Patrick Bateman in his office listening to terrible 80’s synth pop with his headphones drowning out the rest of the world. This speaks to the running theme throughout American Psycho of a lack of connectivity in Patrick’s world. There are scenes where his wearing of ultra thick black gloves is highlighted. There are many moments when people are talking to him, but he is off in his own world. But, that one moment, in his office right after we have seen him kill summarizes the movies stance on Bateman as a character and the materialism of the 80’s, that no one is connected to anyone.
The second moment is when Patrick has chased Christie into a stairwell and dropped his chainsaw down on top of her. The overhead shot through the stairwell of her dead body as blood begins to pour out is obscene and ugly. But, it’s also quite beautiful, there is symmetry and great skill on display in the way the shot unfolds, how it is framed and how it ties into the theme of violence as it relates to our culture. We abhor violence, yet we fall back to it all the time. We watch it on the screen, we read about it, we commit acts of violence to suit our own needs. Violence is ugly, yet we find it useful and in its ugliness we find an odd sort of beauty.
The final moment that is a crowning achievement in American Psycho is the “twist”. I use air quotes, or actual quotes as the case may be, because we don’t know if it’s a twist at all. Did Patrick really kill all those people, or was it in his head? Either way he is psychotic. But, from a story standpoint this twist allows us to determine for ourselves what really happened. The twist also ties into another theme found in American Psycho and offers that theme as a possible avenue for why Patrick didn’t do it. The people we see throughout American Psycho are faceless and soulless, no different than the next. If Patrick didn’t commit the act then he is simply dead inside, he is a soulless construct amid a sea of other soulless constructs afraid to openly express who he really is.
Mary Herron also touches on the idea of image and conformity and she rips the 1980’s to shreds. People who think we are a material driven world today need only travel back to any year in the decade of the 80’s to see a true materialistic society. From Patrick’s seemingly insane rants about true artistic intent from various musicians to the vapid conversations between all the characters the 80’s are skewered to no end. The best part of the 80’s skewering is that the characters live in a world where there is nothing pre-1980. No world existed until 1980 came around, whenever they talk about any subject it is only in relation to the 80’s.
As I said earlier, American Psycho is movie with plenty of dark humor. It is very funny in parts. It’s also a horror movie, working within and around various horror cliches while maintaining its lampooning of 80’s culture and other themes. There are times when American Psycho feels a bit too large for its own good. It wants to take on too much and because of that certain plot strands fall to the way side and the film gets a tad too repetitive.
It’s not a masterpiece, but American Psycho is definitely an experience. Christian Bale is wonderful in his role, and the rest of the cast give off a great 80’s vibe. American Psycho isn’t for everyone, I can definitely see where people with closed off minds or non-horror fans would be put off by some of the material. However, if you haven’t seen American Psycho I urge you to do so because it is a very unique picture. Unless of course you have to return some videotapes, then I completely understand.