Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Ten Statements About....AMERICAN PSYCHO (2000)

You know, when we use the phrase 'a hole in the head'...we
don't mean it literally, Christian.
“I have all the characteristics of a human being: blood, flesh, skin, hair; but not a single, clear, identifiable emotion, except for greed and disgust. Something horrible is happening inside of me and I don't know why. My nightly bloodlust has overflown into my days. I feel lethal, on the verge of frenzy. I think my mask of sanity is about to slip."

1) This is a strange film for a number of reason, not the least of which is how this is a period piece that....well, doesn’t feel very period-y.  There’s a decided artificiality to the 80‘s details in the film, and I wonder if it would have worked better if the whole Reagan-era wankery was dropped.

2) This is the film where I first saw Christian Bale, and it’s a magnificent introduction.  Of course, the magnificence comes from how Bale is playing two different characters--the real life Patrick, and the dream life Patrick--and we don’t know which one is the one we’re following until the very end.  Bale is able to blend these two characters so well that we don’t realize there are two personas for a very long time.

Plus, he runs around naked with a running chainsaw, which is a braver act to me than any stunt he may have done during the Batman trilogy.

3) Boy, are the two women Patrick has a romantic relationship with--Reese Witherspoon’s Evelyn and Samantha Mathis’ Courtney--cardboard in the extreme.  Okay, we’re supposed to see Evelyn as empty and vapid, especially since director Mary Harron seems to rely on her for some of the more overt comic relief of the film (which is curious given this is supposed to be a satire)...but Mathis’ Courtney is equally without heft, which is odd; something terrible happens to her, and I get the impression we’re supposed to feel something for her, but there’s nothing in her time on screen that gives the necessary emotional heft for that to happen.  To be fair, I can’t tell if that’s Mathis’ choices as an actress, or the script by Harron and Guinevere Turner underwrites her character so much there’s nothing for her to bring to life.

4) On the other hand, Chloe Sevigny’s Jean is the one female character who fully comes to life...which makes sense, as she is the one who uncovers the dual nature of Bateman.  Jean is a bit underwritten--a lot of what Easton Ellis did to flesh her out in the novel in the third act of the book has been excised--but Sevigny is able to make Jean live, which makes it logical that she’s the only potential victim in Bateman’s world that he restrains himself from killing.  And it’s Sevigny who gives her final scene, where she discovers what Bateman is really about, a real weight without saying a word.

5) I’m not quite sure how I feel about the way Harron treats the frequent discourses on popular music from Bateman in the film.  Unlike with High Fidelity, which made the pop culture stuffage asides to the audience, this film has Bateman go into these discourses with friends, and they come off as odd and pretentious.  It’s made even more ridiculous by the way Harron uses one of Bateman’s monologues as a signifier that he’s switching into murderous mode.  Even taking into account that this film is supposed to be satire, it comes off as clunky and weird.  And speaking of satire...

6) The problem with this film being satire is that’s a satire of something that, by 2000, had become passe’.  There’s a weird feeling of ‘’ to all the japes about hollow consumerism and yuppie culture and how hollow the lives of Bateman and his friends are.  Of course, I do wonder how much of my ennui with the satire angle comes from the patomine-y approach Harron takes to the 80‘s setting as a whole.
Yep...this threesome is not gonna end well...

7) Considering how grotesquely gory the book was (and yes, I read it when it was first published), I’m surprised how restrained Harron is in depicting the violence.  Not that I wanted to see Christian Bale torturing a woman’s asshole with a habitrail and a rat, mind you, but most of the bloody stuff happens off screen, with only aftermath seen in really brief shots.  There’s so little actual murderousness that it made me wonder if the only murder we see in most of its glory is one that is separate from the other killings in the film.

8) One of the reasons why Bale--and by extension Harron--is allowed to play the ‘who’s the Real Patrick’ game for as long as they do is because of Willem DaFoe’s Detective Kimball.  DaFoe easily slides into the world of Bateman’s delusion, and brings a certain gravitas to his brief scenes that it reinforces one interpretation of the events depicted within the film.

9) I appreciate the fact that Harron interprets the book the same way I did, but chooses to make this interpretation obverse at the very end.  Oddly enough, this move serves to confirm something Bateman says in one of the monologues he has at the very beginning of the film--he has become invisible to the world around him.

10) I’ll admit it--I had a hard time telling Bateman’s investment banker friends apart...but I think that’s part of the point Harron is trying to make, and one of the reasons that final denouement works.

Overall...yeah, it hasn’t aged well and it’s deeply flawed--but it’s still one hundred percent a worthwhile film due to Christian Bale’s magnificent performance.

(Of course, the weird thing is that I’m now deeply curious about the ill-advised DTV sequel American Psycho II: All-American Girl, which features Mila Kunis and totally invalidates everything Harron carefully built up to....)

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