Posts Tagged ‘black comedy’

(Originally published in 1999)

American Psycho

by Jonas Cukierman

American Psycho, the controversial book by Bret Easton Ellis (Less Than Zero) has finally made it to the big screen after ten years of playing havoc with the heads of readers and feminists. As one who has read the macabre book on more than one occasion, I was curious to see how the material would be interpreted       celluloid. Oddly enough, the book which was blasted as a pinnacle of misogynist literature, has been brought to life on screen by none other than feminist director Mary Harron, whose film credits also include I Shot Andy Warhol.

The life and times of Patrick Bateman are filled with platinum credit cards, Armani suits, the latest and greatest of all material gains and a pretense so blatant, it serves as the humorous essence of this black comedy. Set against the backdrop of New Wave music, high stakes finance and lots and lots of cocaine, American Psycho captures relentlessly the hedonistic boom of the 1980’s

Patrick is a loathsome character of sharp wit, undermining sarcasm, great looks and most of all, a very sadistic form of expression. As he does not see himself as a human being, but merely the embodiment of two emotions, “greed and disgust”, he is able to separate himself from mankind. It is perhaps for this reason, he is able to justify the murderous amusement in which he so fancifully partakes. But to be sure, the “creative” ways in which he murders women and sometimes men (if they have reservations at a swankier restaurant than him), also lends itself to becoming an avenue into the mind of a man who is desperately in need of fitting in and is sent into a flying rage when he cannot be at the top of the ladder of the materialism in which he lives. Christian Bale is perfectly cast in the title role of Bateman, and let me assure you that his performance possesses all the sinister charm and delivery of wit needed in the dialogue. With occasional breaks in the overall hilarity of his life comes the sullen and muted narration by Patrick about his innermost thoughts. His conversations with himself are the only indicators that represent what he is really thinking. The rest of the time, he engages in mindless conversation with mindless individuals whom are only interested in which restaurant to eat at that evening and who has the most toys or the best looking business card. It is by all accounts, a grim picture of grown up children playing dress up. The girls are all Barbies  and the boys all want to be Lord of the Flies in a world of savagery called Park Avenue. In a world of blank faces and dull minds, where nobody knows anybody in the true sense, and nobody listens to a word anybody says, we come to understand the analogy of Bateman’s need to rebel against society by taking a nailgun or a sharpened coat hanger to a woman’s head. The most disturbing point of all in this film is not so much the actions of Patrick Bateman, but the fact that he remains at large in the end. There is a sharp reference to how inept our criminal justice system is when dealing with the rich and powerful. Willem Dafoe is Det. Kimball, a seemingly thorough cop who we soon realize is equally pliable when it comes to Bateman’s duplicity and high society’s “untouchability.” When a woman at a club asks Patrick what he does for a living, he answers “murders and executions.” However, the woman hears “mergers and acquisitions”, and it makes this scene undoubtedly one of the best examples of how little anyone cares. Even Patrick’s girlfriend Evelyn (Reese Witherspoon) is a representation of why people are together for convenience, next only to Bateman’s atrocities committed behind the protective veneer of wealth. American Psycho is a fast-paced examination of our society and its need to compete for the ultimate dream. It is also a character study of a madman who is content to be disembodied to the extent of feeling only certain degrees of rage and jealousy. The other women in Bateman’s world are portrayed by Samantha Mathis as Courtney, Patrick’s stupefied drugfiend of a concubine and Chloe  Sevigny (Boys Don’t Cry/Kids) as Jean, Mr. Psycho’s homely and unaware secretary, perhaps the only person in the film who’s character isn’t oversexed, overdrugged or blissfully detached from the rest of humankind. Patrick Bateman is vain, self-absorbed and absolutely in contempt of the entire world and its concepts. Things which are known to most people as evil and barbarous, are commonplace in the mind this man who admires his biceps in the mirror while about to mutilate two prostitutes. While he is a human being, he transcends all comprehension of abhorrence, for he comes in such an unlikely package, and his methods are unlike that of any other. Lastly, stop to consider and look for the signs that maybe all this is merely in Patrick’s head. Something the book was not to indicative of.