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"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."Based on Bret Easton Ellis highly controversial novel of the same name, Mary Herron's American Psycho has remained one of the most misunderstood film of the 21st century. Nevertheless, it has progressively become a cult classic that has influenced pop culture in general and is studied in classrooms for its social critique. In many ways, it presaged the excesses and greed that led to the global financial crisis that has sent most of the world economy into a tailspin since the summer of 2007.
Christian Bale plays Patrick Bateman, a narcissistic Wall Street yuppie who seems to have it all. He is obviously extremely wealthy, has an attractive secretary, a beautiful fiancee and a luxurious apartment. However, behind this seemingly idyllic facade of the American alpha male, there is something terribly wrong with Patrick. He is so obsessed with external appearances, what he looks like, what he eats, what music he listens to, who he is seen with, what he possesses that he is only a hollow shell hiding a misogynist monster inside. A blood lusting monster living a vapid life by day and who goes on a murderous rampage by night. Bateman doesnít just kill people, he takes an insatiable pleasure in murdering unsuspecting people and absolutely relishes every single moment of the mayhem he creates.
Mary Herron walked an extremely thin line between the sordidly funny and the tragic, giving this psychological thriller a heavy dose of dark comedy, horror, and satire. The violence although extreme and gory is stylized in an over-the-top comedic tone. Bateman is less a movie character than a symbol of American capitalism. He is an arrogant and boorish dufus forever preoccupied with materialistic possessions and outward appearance of success. He spends hours in the morning simply preparing to go to work, with fancy skin treatments and doing 1000 stomach crunches while watching disturbing porn movies on his TV. He constantly puts down women, Jews, black, the poor and anyone else who doesn't "belong" to his social rank.
Oddly, we never see Bateman at work, most likely because he probably doesn't do anything economically productive. His main concerns during the day is playing ridiculously shallow one-upsmanship games with the people around him. Who has the best haircut, the most expensive suit, the best looking business card? His boss, a certain Paul Allen (Jared Leto), routinely confuses him for another colleague and Bateman admits himself he would be a nobody if he wasn't a serial killer. In all, Patrick Bateman is just a shell, a cover for some sick creature inside that can only feel emotions committing heinous acts of killing.
"There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman; some kind of abstraction. But there is no real me: only an entity, something illusory. And though I can hide my cold gaze, and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable... I simply am not there."The movie rests entirely on the delightfully unhinged performance from Christian Bale who goes completely off the reservation as Patrick Bateman. I am quite certain that Leonardo DiCaprio, who was the first choice by Lionsgate, would not have been able to come anywhere near the masterful brilliance that Bale showed here. His portrayal of Bateman is showy and over-the-top yet so restrained in the sense that there is nothing tongue-in-cheek about it. Bale intelligently portrays his character not only as a delirious monster but also as a sad loser with a meaningless life. The supporting cast is talented although this is obviously a one-man show and they are given little to do. Reese Witherspoon and ChloÎ Sevigny playing Bateman's silly fiancee and worshiping secretary respectively while Willem Dafoe plays a pestering detective investigating the disappearance of one of Bateman's prey.
The film switch gears in its last third, spiraling into a macabre, surreal and completely over-the-top climax. American Psycho asks more questions than it answers, ending on an ambiguous note. Are Patrick Bateman's crimes real or simply a raving product of his twisted imagination? Whatever the answer is, he is a sick, sick man. However, the fundamental question is whether he is a product of the materialism and greed of our society? The film's main shortcoming may well be that it doesn't make this clear.
Hilariously funny, twisted and brilliantly acted, American Psycho is a daring film worth watching over and over again.
Lesson of the Day: "Did you know that Whitney Houston's debut LP, called simply Whitney Houston had 4 number one singles on it? Did you know that, Christie?"
Notes: Rated R for strong violence, sexuality, drug use and language (DVD cut is NC-17), 102 minutes.
Tomorrow: Cin-Ob Angie goes beyond the Event Horizon.