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Grade: BAmerican Psycho (2000)

Director: Mary Harron

Stars: Christian Bale, Chlok Sevigny, Justin Theroux, Josh Lucas

Release Company: Lion's Gate Films

MPAA Rating: NR

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Harron: American Psycho


American Psycho
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Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) reveals very early in American Psycho that "there is no real me; I simply am not there!" Bateman tells us this as he is applying various lotions, exfoliating gel scrubs, and masques all designed to give his face that perfect look. This leaves us wondering about who this man is. He carefully peels away the mask as the narrative proceeds.

Indeed, Bateman's whole life personifies the Reagan era of the 80's, as he and his colleagues strive for affluence, focussing more on the symbols than on substance. For instance, the opening scene shows Bateman and fellow Wall Street colleagues in one of New York's decadent restaurants where smug waiters offer such essentials as swordfish meatloaf and squid ravioli. At the end of the meal the four yuppies all toss their platinum cards on the tray.

Bateman's world is one where status is continually judged by your identical silk suit, the ability to get a reservation at Darcia's, and your perfectly designed business card. One of the funnier scenes occurs when Bateman and colleagues compare business cards, discussing whether the color of bone is superior to eggshell. Bateman becomes uncontrollably speechless when confronted with Paul Allen's tastefully designed card that even has a watermark! In such a world of one one-upmanship, where these similarly designed men might as well have been comparing peckers like junior high boys; this seals Allen's fate. Bateman will do whatever it takes to get ahead.

Christian Bale personifies the character perfectly, and is the strongest part of the film. He is a Tom Ripley on the surface who doesn't share his internal conflicts with us through narration; he is a character who has successfully entered the shallow yuppie world. Bateman lives in a perfectly co-ordinated white on white designer apartment, lives on a balanced diet, and religiously performs a rigorous exercise routine to attain perfection. Yet we sense his emptiness and isolation.

Bateman lives within a pop music world transfixed in the 80's, and he lives alone. We see his office building, hear the music, and see that Bateman is wearing his Walkman, nearly oblivious to his surroundings. His secretary, played admirably by Chloe Sevigny (Boys Don't Cry) seems to be the only woman in his life who actually cares about him, even after he orders her to change her wardrobe to suit him.

Bateman has three other significant women in his life, but the only "intimacy" he offers them is purely physical. There is his fiancée Evelyn (Reese Witherspoon), who only wants to get married; Courtney (Samanthia Mathis), who is engaged to one of his colleagues; and a hooker named Christie (Cara Seymour) who doesn't enjoy her first encounter with Bateman. These sexual trysts serve to remind us of Bateman's hollow life -- a perfectly designed package without any substance.

For those who are worried about excessive gore and violence, forget about it. The killings themselves are done in such a way that the most squeamish may not even have to duck his/her head even when Patrick is running around the apartment butt naked with a chain saw. The bloodiest scene occurs after the fact when a potential victim discovers assorted corpses strung up in the closet like a meat processing plant.

There is even a question of whether the murders even take place, a point that is established during the last part of the movie. Perhaps there really is less to Patrick Bateman than we imagine; he could be a really weak character who only imagines scenarios of mass carnage and quotes serial killers.

What if the director is really showing us a pathetic man who strives to be on top of Reaganomics but just can't hack it. Instead of aggressively moving ahead in the business world, he puts on all the physical trappings, yet secretly does nothing but crossword puzzles in his office, makes imaginary reservations at exclusive restaurants, doodles violent drawings that would get him hauled into the psychiatrist's office if found in high school, watches countless porn videos, and only dreams of killing off his competition. Bateman also mixes words -- "Mergers and acquisitions" become "murders and executions" -- but no one notices this empty man.

There is a scene with the great communicator, Ronald Reagan, on the TV screen. One of Bateman's look-alike colleagues remarks that he looks like a delightful old codger from the outside, but who knows what is inside. Indeed, we are still not sure what - if anything - is inside Patrick Bateman at the end of the film. So perhaps my ambivalent feelings at the end of the film were just meant to be. I just went on one interesting 2-hour nihilistic journey, that actually plays better many hours later.

It's fortunate that Mary Harron (I Shot Andy Warhol) got hold of Bret Easton Ellis' property and cast Christian Bale in the title role. That role nearly went to teen throb Leo DiCaprio and was originally to be directed by Oliver Stone that could have turned the propertyinto a Natural Born Killers wasteland.

Not for everyone with critical notices all over the map, try another film If you like feel good movies or plot driven ones. This one takes place in your mind's eye more than anything like the line in Tootsie where Bill Murray's character says that he really likes it when people come up to him and say, "I saw your play - what was it?"

American Psycho acts much the same way. Give the images some time to digest before immediately discarding the film. It's much like the 80's era that it personifies; it was forgettable and unremarkable while going through the experience. But if a character like Patrick Bateman can thoroughly analyze generic 80's pop songs by Huey Lewis and the News, Phil Collins, and Whitney Houston, there is a far deeper meaning to American Psycho than meets the initial eye and ear.


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